Writer’s Note: This article was written as recently as the New York Knicks Sunday night home game against the Washington Wizards.
Knicks fans can finally breathe a sigh of relief. Last Sunday, New York edged out the Washington Wizards 118-109 to clinch their second playoff berth in three years and will face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs. Unfortunately for Knicks fans, they haven’t won a championship in 50 years. This article will look at that season when all the pieces came together for New York and how that team is similar to the current Knicks squad.
Last Saturday, the 1972-73 team was honored at halftime for the 50th anniversary of their win over the Los Angeles Lakers to claim the Walter A. Brown Trophy. From that historic squad, Dick Barnett, Bill Bradley, Earl Monroe, Jerry Lucas, Henry Bibby and Walt Frazier were all in attendance. Interestingly enough, former-President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson was invited to this ceremony but didn’t attend. Knicks legends Willis Reed and Patrick Ewing couldn’t make it in person, although they greeted the New York crowd from two pre-recorded videos. Ewing was a part of the ceremony, even though he was not on the team that year. Before the game, current head coach Tom Thibodeau recalls what that year’s squad meant to its fans.
“It’s funny, guys come back and that’s the beauty of the championship team: you’re tied together forever, but what it’s meant to all the different generations of people,” Thibodeau added postgame. “That was such a great team, they were so unselfish. They played great defense… That was such a fun team, but it’s what they embodied and how they played for each other. I think it resonated with the city.”
That Knicks squad finished the season 57-25, 11 games behind the first-place Boston Celtics, whereas this year’s squad holds a 46-33 record with three games to go.
In the 1972-73 postseason, the Knicks faced the best the league had to offer, defeating the Baltimore Bullets, Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. All these squads were first-place teams in their respective divisions, and every team that New York faced was favored to beat them. Only the Bullets had a worse record than Frazier’s squad. This season is the same story. The Knicks will play the Cavs, who are seeded higher than them. If New York wins their first playoff series in 10 years, they will more than likely need to get through Milwaukee, which will be a tall task, then they will need to beat another high-seeded Eastern Conference team to make the finals. Despite the tall task ahead of this young squad, it seems they will relish in the moment.
“We’ll try to continue to celebrate these legends and honor them and make them proud,” remarked star guard Jalen Brunson. Brunson also said the current Knick team is trying to embody those players’ hard work, selflessness and sacrifice.
While the records of these two squads are very different, the circumstances they face are very similar. If New York advances to the next round, they will likely have to face future Hall-of-Famer Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, who own a 3-0 season record over them. Despite the lopsided record, these games have been tight every time, each decided by under 10 points. The championship Knicks team had similarly stiff competition, facing many of the game’s greatest en route to a championship, including Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West. Despite the loss of Julius Randle, this New York squad is still at the top of their game. Last Friday, March 31, they faced their first-round foes, Cleveland, on the road and pulled off the victory, a contest where Brunson scored a career-high 48 points. Knicks fans are hoping their former Kentucky star in Randle can return before the playoffs start and some of the magic of that team 50 years ago can rub off on them. Interestingly enough, New York trails first-place Milwaukee by 11 games at this moment, similar to the historic squad from 50 years ago.