Unsung Knick History – The Knicks’ Version of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”
This is the third in a series (of indefinite length and regularity) of examinations into different games, events and decisions that impacted Knicks history in some way, shape or form. Stories that are not as famous as, say, LJ’s 4-point play or Willis Reed playing Game 7, but still have a place in Knicks history, especially for die-hard fans. Here is an archive of all the stories featured so far.
If you are unfamiliar with Shirley Jackon’s famous short story, “The Lottery,” well, you should probably stop reading this piece and go off and read that short story first, as A. It’s awesome and B. I’m about to spoil it for my analogy. In any event, in Jackson’s story, the reader discovers that the “lottery” that a small town is holding is actually to determine who gets stoned to death to ensure a good harvest for the town. Well, that was basically what the Knicks used their draft for over a strange five-year period from 1960-1964 where their five first round draft picks (all among the top three picks in the draft) played a combined eight seasons for the Knicks!! Getting drafted in the first three picks is normally a good thing, but for the Knicks draftees, like the “winners” in Jackson’s lottery, it was a sign of impending doom!
Before saying anything about the Knicks’ draft picks during the early 1960s, I should make one very important note – during this point in NBA history, from 1950-1965, there existed something called “territorial picks” where teams could forfeit their first round pick in exchange for being allowed to draft a player who attended college within their “territory” (typically the actual city of the team or nearby cities). This was to encourage local fans to follow the NBA, as they would already be interested in the star player from having followed them in college (the league fudged the rules a bit to allow Wilt Chamberlain to be drafted by his hometown team, the Philadelphia Warriors, even though he attended college in Kansas, outside any NBA territory. The same basic rule allowed the Cincinnati Royals to draft Jerry Lucas, who was technically outside of their territory even though he went to Ohio State). Of the 22 players drafted using this system, half of them are now in the Hall of Fame. Half!! So as you might imagine, the very best players were often selected using this method.
To wit, during the five-year period in question, 1960-1964, the territorial picks were: Oscar Robertson, Dave DeBusschere, Jerry Lucas, Tom Thacker, Walt Hazzard and George Wilson. Half of those players are in the Hall of Fame.
Territorial picks were not counted as being picks (except for Robertson, who was counted as the first overall selection in the 1960 draft because the team using the territorial pick, the Cincinnati Royals, were picking #1 anyways, so it would not have mattered either way), so when I say that the Knicks picked in the top three of the draft from 1960-1964, that’s accurate, but in three of the five drafts, at least one player was taken technically before the draft even began, and usually that player would be one of the best in the country, so the players the Knicks had to choose from would not be as impressive.
That being said, the Knicks still had a disastrous five-year stretch from 1960 through 1964, with their main target in those years being a center who could hang with the elite centers of the NBA, namely Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.
In 1960, the Knicks picked third. The number one pick? Future Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson (would have been a territorial pick if needed). The number two pick? Future Hall of Famer Jerry West. The Knicks’ pick? Darrall Imhoff. Pretty rough company, eh?
Imhoff was the starting center and the top player for the California Golden Bears, who were the 1958-1959 NCAA Champions (beating out Jerry West’s West Virginia squad in the last seconds on a shot by Imhoff). Imhoff’s coach, Pete Newell, coached the 1960 US Olympic Men’s Basketball team and he brought Imhoff with him. Imhoff played behind Jerry Lucas, Terry Dischinger and Walt Bellamy, but he got plenty of minutes due to the games all being blow-outs. Drafted by the Knicks, he was expected to be a big contributor to the team, but by the end of the 1960-61 season he was not even the first center off of the bench! The Knicks gave him another shot in 1961-62, but he was disappointing again (he did have the “honor” of being the starting center in the game that Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points against the Knicks). The Knicks dealt him to the Detroit Pistons after the 1961-62 season for guard Gene Shue.
Imhoff wasn’t much better for the Pistons and they sold him to the Los Angeles Lakers in 1964. Then, unexpectedly, Imhoff began to thrive, even making the All-Star Game in the 1966-67 season. He was good enough that he was part of the package that the Lakers sent the Philadelphia 76ers for Wilt Chamberlain! He played for the Sixers for awhile and ended his career as a backup for the Portland Trailblazers in 1971. Imhoff had the best career of the players chosen in these five seasons. However, he always had trouble with Russell and Chamberlain (like many others, of course).
In 1961, the Knicks were picking second. There were no territorial picks in the draft. The first pick? Future Hall of Famer Walt Bellamy. The Knicks’ pick? Tom Stith.
Tom and his older brother Sam were a wonderful 1-2 punch for St. Bonaventure University, where Tom became the first consensus All-American in St. Bonaventure University history! The Knicks were thrilled to get a star player from a New York university. However, Stith had a major problem when the Knicks’ team doctors took a look at him after he signed a two-year deal with the Knicks. You see, Stith had contracted pulmonary tuberculosis! Yes, the Knicks’ #1 draft pick had TB!
So Stith was sent to a sanitarium where he recovered from the disease. He missed the entire 1961-62 season. He impressively managed to recover in time to play the 1962-63 season, but his skills had atrophied and he was released after playing only 25 games. He went on to have a very successful career in the corporate sector. He passed away in June of this year at the age of 71.
In 1962, the Knicks picked second. However, there were two territorial picks. Those picks were Future Hall of Famer Dave DeBusschere and Future Hall of Famer Jerry Lucas. However, because they chose Jerry Lucas with their territorial pick (a stretch of the rules), the Cincinnati Royals were not able to choose University of Cincinnati stand-out center, Paul “Duke” Hogue, so the Knicks got him with the second pick in the draft (Center Bill McGill, not a Hall of Famer, was chosen first).
The great Oscar Robertson helped convince Hogue to attend the University of Cincinnati, and in Robertson’s Junior year and Hogue’s Freshman, the two men roomed together. Robertson’s greatness convinced a good deal of other African-American players to play for Cincinnati, and they accumulated so much good young talent that they actually were better after Robertson graduated, as he had brought on so much talent. Along with guards Tony Yates (who would go on to coach the Bearcats in the 1980s) and Tom Thacker, Hogue led the Bearcats to the 1960-61 NCAA Championship. The team then repeated in 1961-62, with Hogue being named Most Outstanding Player in the Tournament (that team had also added another strong African-American player, Center George Wilson).
The problem with Hogue was that his skills were best served in the college game, as they played without a shot clock. Hogue was an imposing presence, but he was not a fast presence, and as a result, his game did not translate to the NBA game with the 24 second shot clock. He could not hang with players like Russell and Chamberlain. As a result, Hogue had a rough first season for the Knicks, especially as he was forced to foul constantly. One telling story from his first year as a Knick came when Hogue was late on a Chamberlain drive, so he valiantly tried to stick his hand in front of Chamberlain dunking. Of course, had Chamberlain just continued with his dunk he would have just gone right through Hogue’s hand, drawn the foul and likely would have injured Hogue. Instead, Chamberlain used his left hand to deflect Hogue’s hand and dunked it cleanly with his right. That was the kind of experience Hogue had his first season (he led all rookies in times fouling out of the game). Hogue was dealt to the Baltimore Bullets early the next season, who looked at him as someone who could protect Walt Bellamy (who had gone one pick ahead of Tom Stith in the 1961 Draft, and who, as great as he was, was also not someone you would choose to bang with Russell and Chamberlain on the blocks). He would play one more year with the Bullets before his NBA career was over. He worked in a variety of jobs in Ohio after his NBA career ended, including being a member of the Princeton Schools board of education in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio. He passed away in April of 2009 at the age of 69.
In 1963, the Knicks were picking first overall. There was one territorial pick, as the Royals continued to pick-up Ohio college stars; they added Tom Thacker to their team (Future Hall of Famer Nate Thurmond did get drafted third). The Knicks choose guard Art Heyman.
Art Heyman was a star player at Duke University, and is in the Duke University Hall of Fame. He won the Most Outstanding Player in the 1963 NCAA tournament (yes, the Knicks got the Most Outstanding Player from back-to-back tournaments) and Duke did not even make the Finals! That’s how impressive Heyman was! The New York-born Heyman seemed to be a perfect fit for the Knicks (he even hearkened back to the early Knick teams that had a number of Jewish athletes on the team – Heyman is in the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame). However, Heyman had a bit of an attitude problem.
His attitude issues famously showed themselves in an ACC game between Duke and the University of North Carolina in Heyman’s sophomore year at Duke. In his freshman year, Heyman had been attacked by Tarheel freshman guard, Dieter Krause, during a game that led to a brawl. So the next year, with Heyman now a member of the varsity team, tensions were high and they came to a head in one memorable game between the two teams. First, Heyman felt that a fan had attempted to attack him at halftime, so he threw the fan to the ground. Naturally, this put North Carolina ill at ease (while Heyman certainly was not happy himself). Later in the game, with Duke holding a slim lead, Tarheel guard Larry Brown (yes, that Larry Brown) was driving to the basket and Heyman took him out with a hard foul. Brown took exception to this foul and threw a punch at Heyman. This set off a major brawl. During the brawl, a back-up player for the Tar Heels, Donnie Walsh (yes, that Donnie Walsh) also took a swing at Heyman. All three players were suspended for the rest of the ACC tournament.
So after a strong rookie campaign for the Knicks in the 1963-64 season, averaging over 15 points a game and making the All-Rookie team (first team), Heyman’s attitude problems resurfaced the next season and his minutes fell dramatically and his scoring fell with it. Years later, Heyman himself would say that he just didn’t care that second season. The Knicks cut him loose after the 1964-65 season and he had two unsuccessful NBA stinits in Cincinnati and Philadelphia before going to the ABA for the rest of his career (winning a title in 1968 with the Pittsburgh Pipers).
In 1964, the Knicks once again picked first overall. There were two territorial picks, with the Lakers picking up Walt Hazzard and the Royals picked up another Ohio college star in George Wilson. The Knicks picked forward/center Jim Barnes.
Jim Barnes was a star for Texas Western and was a member of the Gold Medal-winning 1964 Men’s Basketball Olympic team. Barnes actually was an odd duck, in that the Knicks actually got the best of Barnes’ career. After making the All-Rookie team (first team) in his rookie year, the Knicks dealt him in a package to acquire Baltimore Bullets star Walt Bellamy (who the Knicks later dealt for Dave DeBusschere). Barnes bummed around the league for seven years as a decent back-up. He won a title with the Boston Celtics in 1969. Really, now that I think about it, I guess Barnes does not really fit in with the first four players, as he did land the Knicks Walt Bellamy/Dave DeBusschere. I guess I just really wanted to note that the Knicks’ long journey to pick up a star center finally ended in the 1964 draft…with their second round pick, as with the first pick of the second round, the Knicks selected Willis Reed.
Up until 1964, Knick president Ned Irish was the main decision-maker with the draft, but in 1964, he hired Knicks head coach Eddie Donovan (one of over a half dozen head coaches for the Knicks between the late 1950s and when Red Holzman was hired in 1968) as the team’s general manager and turned control of the Knicks draft to Donovan and Knicks head scout Holzman. Donovan helped steady the ship a lot in the draft (Donovan left as head coach after 1965 but stayed on as general manager).
Along with 1965 territorial pick Bill Bradley (the last year of the territorial pick), the Knicks’ draft results were suddenly turning around. 1965 also saw Dick Van Arsdale being selected in the second round. In 1966, Donovan and Holzman picked Cazzie Russell with the #1 pick and 1967 saw them net a certain guard named Walt Frazier with the #5 pick. Yep, things were looking a lot better as the Knicks began to put everything together on the road to their only two NBA titles. Maybe Irish should have turned things over a bit earlier, eh?
Thanks to reader Roy H. Cornely for suggesting today’s topic (well, Roy specifically wanted to talk about Hogue, but I figured Hogue tied in with the five-year period too well to not bring in the other stuff)!
If you have any suggestions for future Unsung Knicks History pieces, drop me a line at email@example.com! I’d prefer you share your suggestions via e-mail rather than in the comments section, so we can keep them a surprise! Thanks!