An injured Willis Reed marching onto the court to lead his teammates to victory in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals.
John Starks throwing down “The Dunk” on Michael Jordan and Horace Grant in the 1993 Playoffs.
That time Reggie Miller swerved Spike Lee so hard during the 1994 Playoffs that ESPN made a documentary about it.
The New York Knickerbockers are one of the most storied franchises in NBA history. They were one of the association’s founding teams and one of the few teams to have remained in its original city for the duration of its existence. They play in the Mecca of Basketball, Madison Square Garden, and are theoretically a premiere destination for free agents. Today, the Blue and Orange are considered to be somewhat of a joke, thanks to poor management and team personnel decisions (Hey, Isiah Thomas!) (Fun fact: the pick that would become LaMarcus Aldridge in the 2006 draft was traded to Portland by New York for Zach Randolph), but for a long time, they were one of the most respected and consistently successful clubs in professional basketball. Despite the past decade and a half of internal chaos and less than wonderful coaching (Hey again, Isiah Thomas!), many great players have played for the Knicks. This list is a testament to the fifteen greatest players in New York Knicks history, looking back and marveling on the talent, memories, and BUCKETS they brought to the Big Apple.
15. Larry Johnson
Larry Johnson is one of the many NBA players that fell victim to absurd expectations. Early in his career, he was compared to BOTH Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, because of his size and versatility (Think a higher scoring Draymond Green with less defensive ability). In his defense, he was a very good player, just never THAT good. Although he was a two time All-Star and one time member of the All-NBA Second Team on the Charlotte Hornets, he never reached those heights after being traded to New York. Unfortunately, he was chronically injured and his body broke down at an accelerated rate, forcing him to call it a career after just a decade of play. However, he did have one beautiful, shining moment in the Big Apple, as a member of the 1998-1999 Knicks team that became the first eighth seed in history to advance to the NBA Finals. In Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers, LJ was fouled as he sank a three point shot, then made made the proceeding free throw, putting the Knicks ahead by for good. He may have only had that one moment, but that’s enough to secure him a place in the Knicks Pantheon.
14. Anthony Mason
First and foremost, Rest in Peace, Mase.
Anthony Mason was the kind of player ever coach strives for. He was a high energy defender, a grit and grind kind of guy who would do whatever he could to win, but he could also make buckets when it mattered. Unfortunately for a few teams and coaches, it took a while for his particular brand of NBA basketball to catch on. He was drafted by the Portland Trailblazers, but never played a game with them. He wasted away on the international scene for a few years, in between unsuccessful stints with the New Jersey Nets and Denver Nuggets. Finally, in 1991, he signed with the New York Knicks and this time, stuck around for good. He played five seasons in the Big Apple, becoming one of coach Pat Riley’s favorite players (so much so that they reunited in Miami years later, where Mase received his lone All-Star bid). He was a valuable bench contributor behind Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley, winning the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award in 1995, averaging 9.9 points and 8.4 rebounds a game off the bench. His best season was in 1995-1996, when he averaged 14.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 4.4 assists a game.
13. Marcus Camby
Marcus Camby is one of those very good basketball players that doesn’t get nearly enough love, mainly because he wasn’t an offensive superstar. Early on in his career, he was a victim of circumstance, drafted to a very young Toronto Raptors team that didn’t have a solid place for him in their lineup and didn’t exactly know how to utilize his considerable talents. Just two years into his tenure in the Great White North, Camby was traded to the Knicks for Charles Oakley. He ended up being a vital part of that 1998-1999 underdog Knicks team. When Patrick Ewing succumbed to injury in the Eastern Conference Finals, Camby stepped into a starting role and helped the team upset Spike Lee’s greatest rivals, the Indiana Pacers. The following season, he played an integral role for a 50 win Knicks, averaging 12 points and 11.5 rebounds off the bench. Additionally, Matt LeBlanc once wore a Marcus Camby jersey in an episode of “Friends”, which is a pretty unique accomplishment. Marcus Camby – 1, Everybody Else – 0.
12. John Starks
Very few players are so equally celebrated and derided as John Starks is by Knicks fans. On one hand, he was one of the few people who could give Michael Jordan trouble. He literally has his own moment in NBA history known as “The Dunk”, where he rained down holy basketball fire on Jordan and Horace Grant (It also inspired his Twitter handle). On the other hand, he went 2-18 in Game 7 of the 1994 Finals, a game that decided by a mere six points. Despite that failure, he was a stalwart presence on the Knicks for eight years. He joined the Golden State Warriors as an undrafted free agent in 1988, seeing little court time, toiled in smaller promotions the next year, then made his way to New York in 1990, where he managed to earn a starting role. Ironically, his best season came in 1993-1993, when he made his only All-Star team and averaged 19 points a game. In addition to that, he was named to NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 1993 and won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award in 1997.
11. Charles Oakley
In hockey terminology, Charles Oakley was a goon. He was a high energy defensive specialist, in the same vein as Dennis Rodman and Bill Laimbeer, who pulled down a ton of rebounds and wasn’t afraid to do the dirty work his teammates couldn’t. He was originally drafted by the Chicago Bulls, where he was charged with protecting a young Michael Jordan. However, three years into his NBA tenure, he was traded to the Knicks, where he played for ten years. He played the role of Patrick Ewing’s front court partner for many of New York’s best teams, playing tenacious, hard hitting defense that would allow his giant running mate to dominate the offense. His best year was in 1994, when he made his only All-Star team and was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, averaging 11.8 points and 11.8 rebounds a game. In addition to those honors, he set an NBA record for starting 107 combined games in the regular season and playoffs (82 in the regular season, 25 in the playoffs).
10. Michael Ray Richardson
Michael Ray Richardson didn’t have the longest tenure on the Knicks, and he didn’t exactly make the most of his sky high potential, but his short career in the Big Apple was something special (He’s also the first person so far to have been drafted to New York). Richardson was drafted fourth overall in the 1978 NBA Draft (Two spots ahead of Larry Bird, but let’s pretend that didn’t happen), and was hailed as the next Walt Frazier. He spent the first four years of his ten year career in New York and he didn’t disappoint. He made three consecutive All-Star teams from 1980-1982 and was named to the All-NBA Defensive First Team in 1980 and 1981. He also became one of very few NBA players to have led the league in both assists and steals, pacing the league in both in 1980. Unfortunately, he was traded to the Golden State Warriors in 1982 so the Knicks could make room for Bernard King.
9. Bob McAdoo
Bob McAdoo had one of the most glorious and dramatic rise and falls of any basketball player ever. He entered the league as an absolute superstar, being drafted by the Buffalo Braves (Now the Los Angeles Clippers) second overall in 1972. After a very good rookie season that saw him take home the Rookie of the Year award, he averaged 30 points and 15.1 rebounds a game as a sophomore, earning his first of five consecutive All-Star bids. He won the MVP award in 1975, averaging 34.5 points and 14.1 rebounds a game. He joined the Knicks in the summer 1976, playing there for three years. He was never as good as he was in Buffalo, but he still made three straight All-Star teams and averaged 26.7 points and 12 rebounds a game. Unfortunately for him, the Knicks were never a contender during his tenure, as they were still mired in the aftermath of the departures of Willis Reed and Walt Frazier a few years before.
8. Allan Houston
Like John Starks, Allan Houston was a player whom Knicks fans occasionally attached a negative connotation. Despite the fact that Houston was a five time All-Star, all with the Knicks, and one of the few bright spots on those early 2000’s Knicks teams, Houston also signed a massive, 20 million a year contract that made him virtually untouchable in trades when he eventually succumbed to injuries in 2004, injuries that would force him into early retirement in 2005. However, this is more of a blunder by management, one of many the Knicks front office would make during the decade. Still, Allan Houston was a genuinely great Knick. He was drafted by the Detroit Pistons eleventh overall in 1993, he joined the Knicks in free agency in 1996 and spent the rest of his career in the Big Apple. He was a key contributor on the 1998-1999 Knicks that made the Finals, averaging 18.5 points in the Playoffs. He was named to four consecutive All-Star teams between 2000-20003, never averaging any less than 18.7 points in that time period and trying to keep the Knicks afloat after Patrick Ewing left.
7. Earl “The Pearl” Monroe
The man known as The Pearl (and Black Jesus), Earl Monroe may very well be the best trade decision the New York Knicks ever made. Drafted second overall by the Baltimore Bullets in 1967, Monroe immediately made his presence felt in the league, dominating on the court with his flashy, fast, daredevil style of play. He averaged 23.7 points a game his five seasons in Baltimore. That level of play is obviously what attracted New York to his abilities, making a trade for the shooting guard in 1971. Together with Walt “Clyde” Frazier, he formed one of the most dominant front court duos in NBA history (and easily the most spectacularly flamboyant off the court). Monroe would make two more All-Star teams in New York, averaging 16.2 points a game through his nine seasons in the Big Apple. With the combined forces of Monroe, Clyde, and Willis Reed, the Knicks would go on to win the 1973 NBA Finals, the second and most recent NBA championship in Knicks history. The Knicks have retired #15 twice, once for Monroe and once for fellow hall of famer Dick McGuire.
6. Dave DeBusschere
As you may have noticed, many of the best players on this list weren’t drafted by the Knicks. They were traded for or picked up in free agency, sometimes from the bottom of the bin, to try and put the Knicks over the edge as contenders, or keep them in contention. Dave DeBusschere is one of the best examples of a player that put a team over the top in NBA history. He was drafted by the Detroit Pistons in 1962 and played there for seven seasons, making his bones as a perennial All-Star. In 1969, DeBusschere was traded to New York, where he became Willis Reed’s front court partner and defensive specialist. He made the All-Star team and All-Defensive First Team every year he played in New York, until he retired in 1974. He was a vital contributor on the 1970 and 1973 NBA Championship Knicks teams, averaging 16.1 points and 11.6 rebounds a game, and 15.6 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, respectively. The Knicks have retired #22 in his honor.
5. Bernard King
Despite not being drafted by the Knicks and only playing in New York for four seasons, Bernard King is fondly remembered by Knickerbocker fans as one of the very best players to ever call Madison Square Garden home. A legendary high school and college player at the University of Tennessee, the early part of King’s career was marred by issues with drugs and alcohol, and as a result, he played for three teams in five seasons and barely scratched the surface of his otherworldly potential. However, when he came to the Knicks in the summer of 1982, everything finally started to come together for King. In four seasons, he averaged 26.5 points a game (on an unbelievable .54% shooting) and made two consecutive All-Star teams and two consecutive All-NBA First Teams in 1984-1985. Most importantly, he claimed the scoring title in the 1984-1985 season, averaging an absurd 32.9 points a game (including a 60 point game on Christmas Day), making him just one of two Knicks to ever claim that crown.
4. Carmelo Anthony
There have been few players in recent NBA history as divisive as Carmelo Anthony. On one hand, he’s one of the best scorers of his generation, never averaging less than 20 points a game in a season, and one of the most decorated collegiate and international players of all time. On the other hand, he has earned a reputation as a ball hog, a coach killer, and a less than adamant defender (It doesn’t help that he was drafted the same year as LeBron James). However, it’s impossible to deny that he’s a great basketball player, and one of the best to ever don the Blue and Orange. Melo started his career with the Denver Nuggets, where he was a multi-time All-Star, but forced a trade to the Knicks in 2011, and since coming to the Big Apple, Anthony has been a five time All-Star and won the 2012-2013 scoring title, averaging 27.8 points a game. 14 years into his career, Melo continues to evolve, slowly shifting his role to more of a facilitator to compliment teammate Kristaps Porzingis.
3. Patrick Ewing
Patrick Ewing was less a basketball player and more a frost giant that shrunk down and gained an unhealthy predilection for dunking on fools. The Knicks drafted Ewing first overall in 1985 and he quickly lived up to his sky high potential, winning the 1986 Rookie of the Year award. Ewing was one of the most hyped college players ever coming out of Georgetown, hailed for his size and blistering defensive acumen, which would ironically take a backseat to his offensive repertoire in the pros. Ewing played for the Knicks for fifteen seasons (All Knicks fans are more than willing to forget those two seasons he played in Seattle and Orlando) and made eleven All-Star teams, seven All-NBA Teams, and 3 NBA All-Defensive teams. He led the Knicks to Finals twice (Technically, 1999 counts) and is the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, averaging 22.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks a game in his fifteen years with the club. Additionally, he was a member of the original Dream Team in 1992. The Knicks have retired #33 in his honor.
2. Willis Reed
Unfortunately, Willis Reed is an oft-forgotten figure in basketball history, as he spent much of his career in the shadows of Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. However, in New York, there are few sports figures more revered. Drafted by the Knicks in 1964, he spent the entirety of his career in the Big Apple, averaging 18.7 points and 12.9 rebounds a game. He won the 1965 Rookie of the Year award, made seven consecutive All-Star games between 1965-1971, and made 5 All-NBA Teams in that time. He is also the only Knick to have ever won the NBA MVP award, winning it in 1970. He led the franchise to its only two championships in 1970 and 1973, marching back from injury to will his teammates to victory over the Lakers in Game 7 of the 1970 Finals. Additionally, but possibly most importantly, he once got in a fight with the entire Los Angeles Lakers team. He fought every one of them. The video’s on YouTube; go watch it a thousand times. You won’t regret it.
1. Walt “Clyde” Frazier
Every Knicks fan knows Walt Frazier. He’s not just a basketball player, he’s a representation of New York sports. Always stylin’ and profilin’, on and off the court, Clyde was one of the best point guards of all time and possibly the best defensive guard to ever play the game. Drafted fifth overall by the Knicks in 1967, Clyde played in New York for ten seasons and was nothing short of spectacular. Between 1970-1976, he received seven straight All-Star nods, and was named to six straight All-NBA Teams and seven straight NBA All-Defensive First Teams, the only player to have been on each of the original seven All-Defensive First Teams. He was a vital part of those 1970 and 1973 Championship teams, averaging 20.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.4 assists per game in his playoff career. Additionally, he’s been a color commentator for the Knicks for decades and he’s genuinely one of the best announcers in professional sports. His wild suits and breezy, almost lyrical way of speaking have made him a voice that every Knicks fan is glad to hear.
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