Unsung Knick History – Farewell to the King

This is the eighteenth 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, “The Dunk” 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.

Last week, we finished up the countdown of the Top 25 Favorite Knicks of the Modern Era, and Bernard King was #7. In the comments section of King’s entry there was a discussion over King’s departure from the Knicks. Different commenters remembered the situation quite differently, so I figured this would be a nice topic to re-visit.

As we all know too well by now, Bernard King tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his knee near the end of of the 1984-85 season. This terrible injury (which is still awful today, but was even worse back in the 1980s) caused King to miss all of the 1985-86 season and all but six games of the 1986-87 season. The 1985-87 season also marked the final year of King’s five-year contract with the Knicks. Now a free agent, King ultimately signed with the Washington Bullets, where he slowly revitalized his career, eventually making an All-Star Game as a Bullet in 1991.

So what was the deal in the fall of 1987? Did the Knicks not want Bernard? Did he not want to be a Knick? What sent the Knicks captain packing?

Let’s find out!

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Unsung Knick History – How Green Was My Plan A

This is the seventeenth 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, “The Dunk” 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.

A couple of weeks ago, in a previous installment of Unsung Knick History (which you can read here), I detailed the seemingly minor chain of events that resulted in Rick Pitino leaping ahead of Larry Brown in the race to be the new Knicks coach for the 1987-88 season (and how the choice of Pitino over Larry Brown informed the Knicks coaching situation for more than a decade)

However, while that story was, indeed, true, do note that those circumstances only pushed Pitino ahead of Brown. There was another candidate who the Knicks wanted over both Pitino and Brown, and it was only when negotiations broke down with that candidate that the Knicks moved to their Plan B (which, due to the circumstances detailed in the previous Unsung Knick History installment, was Pitino instead of Brown).

So come find out how close the Knicks came to changing not only their coaching situation for years, but also the Boston Celtics’ coaching situation for years, as well.

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Unsung Knick History – How the Pacers Helped the Knicks Get a Pearl

This is the sixteenth 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, “The Dunk” 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.

On November 10, 1971, the New York Knicks acquired All-Star shooting guard Earl “The Pearl” Monroe from the Baltimore Bullets in exchange for guard/forward Mike Riordan, center/forward Dave Stallworth and cash. The trade helped propel the Knicks (now with a Hall of Fame backcourt of Monroe and Walt “Clyde” Frazier) to a second NBA championship in the 1972-73 season. However, it is interesting to note that when the trade is discussed nowadays it is typically within the context of either

A. Discussing how Monroe and Frazier proved critics of the trade wrong (the criticism being that both Frazier and Monroe needed to have the ball to succeed – I must have read/heard Frazier say, “they said that we would need two balls!” dozens of times easy)

B. How great of a trade it was for the Knicks.

Rarely, though, do you ever see it discussed just exactly why the Bullets (who had eliminated the Knicks from the playoffs the previous season on their way to an improbable spot in the NBA Finals) would trade their star shooting guard to their hated rival for two back-ups and cash (Riordan would eventually start for the Wizards, but when he joined them in 1971 he was 26 years old and a back-up).

The answer involves the Indiana Pacers, who helped the Knicks’ playoff chances in 1971 decades before they became a constant threat to the Knicks playoff chances.

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Unsung Knick History – The Long-Lasting Impact Bob Thomas Had On the Knicks

This is the fifteenth 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, “The Dunk” 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.

A lot of the most interesting fodder for the unsung history of the New York Knicks is the way that decisions or actions almost went a different direction, leaving us to wonder about how different things might have been. Usually, though, the decisions and actions that had such a great impact upon the Knicks involved, well, you know, the New York Knicks themselves.

This, though, is not the case. Sometimes, seemingly minor actions by people having absolutely zero connection to the Knicks turn out to have a long-lasting impact on the franchise.

Today we discuss Bob Thomas, and how his missed free throw in 1987 affected the Knicks franchise for the next fifteen years or so.

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Unsung Knick History – The Fight For…Chris Dudley?!?

This is the fourteenth 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, “The Dunk” 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.

In the multi-million world of the National Basketball Association (NBA), you better believe that teams are pouring over every single collective bargaining agreement looking for any loophole that they could use an advantage over the other teams in signing free agents. In fact, NBA history is filled with examples of teams that looked for advantages without finding a legal reason to do what they wanted to do.

However, when teams try these sort of maneuvers, they’re typically for top-of-the-line players that they are trying to acquire. For the Knicks, though, they spent months in the summer (and fall) of 1997 fighting for the right to pay millions of dollars to…Chris Dudley?!?

Read on for the details!

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Unsung Knick History – Quentin Richardson for Half a Season of Mirsad Turkcan?

This is the thirteenth 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, “The Dunk” 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.

A few weeks ago, I discussed in this column the Knicks’ 1996 NBA Draft. One thing that struck me as particularly interesting was how the Knicks acquired the two additional picks they had that year. Not only how the Knicks got them, but how the picks were acquired by the teams that gave them to the Knicks (both additional picks came from teams who had themselves acquired the picks from other teams). It made me reflect a bit on how it is often fairly unfair to judge teams on what happens to the draft picks they trade away if those picks were not obviously good ones when they were dealt.

But then I thought, “It might be fairly unfair, but it sure is fun!”

So let us take a look at the history of some of the notable NBA players who you might not know were drafted with picks once owned by the New York Knicks, and how those draft picks were acquired (including, as the headline notes, the time the Knicks traded the draft pick that would become Quentin Richardson for half a season of Mirsand Turkcan). Just to keep things a bit less depressing, I’ll also mention some picks of the Knicks that were acquired by the Knicks!

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Unsung Knick History – Before There Was Red, There Was Fuzzy

This is the twelfth 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, “The Dunk” 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.

I don’t think I would get very many arguments out there (perhaps a crazed Jeff Van Gundy fan) if I were to state that the late, great William “Red” Holzman was the greatest head coach in New York Knick history. Holzman coached the Knicks to both of their only two National Basketball Association (NBA) titles in 1970 and 1973. He is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Holzman’s career in professional basketball is a bit of a strange one. Amazingly enough, Holzman owes what were likely the three biggest breaks in his career to one man – his longtime friend, Andrew “Fuzzy” Levane. Bizarrely, on three separate points in history, Levane brought Holzman into situations where Holzman would end up lasting longer than Levane himself at each place!

Read on to see how important Levane was to Holzman’s career in the pro basketball, including his time with the New York Knicks!

Born a few months apart in 1920, Holzman and Levane knew each other all the way back in their high school days. They even worked at the same resort during the summer (Levane was a bus boy and Holzman a waiter). Both teenagers went on to play basketball in college – Holzman for the City College of New York and Levane for St. Johns University. They were both guards, with Levane having about four inches on the five foot ten inch Holzman.

After they each spent time in the military for World War II, Levane was signed to play for the Rochester Royals, a somewhat professional basketball team (more professional than what you would call “semi-pro,” but not much more) that had decided to join the National Basketball League (NBL) (one of two leagues that eventually merged to form the NBA). Levane brought in Holzman and together they were part of the 1946 NBL champion Royals.

While on the Royals, they played one season (1946-47) with one of the first African-American players to play professional basketball, William “Dolly” King. The three men became friends and when King was refused service at a hotel restaurant in Indiana, Holzman and Levane refused to eat without them (so they all ate together in their room). Levane would look back upon this friendship in 2001 when David Kamp did a profile on early African-American professional basketball players for GQ, including Bob Wilson Jr., who accused Levane of cutting him in the early 1950s because of the color of his skin. Levane replied, “Jesus, I’m just the opposite! Oh shit! Hey if she was good enough to play, I woulda played my grandmother! Tell him I cut a lot of white guys too!” Levane then reflected upon the friendship he had with Holzman and King in Rochester, “A paesan, a Jew [Holzman was Jewish] and a black and we all got along famously.”

For a few years in the late 1940s, Holzman and Levane actually shared a house together along with their wives. However, while both men stayed with the Royals as they moved to the Basketball Association of America (BAA) in 1948-49, Levane did not stick around the next year, when the NBA was formed. Levane went to another NBA team, the Syracuse Nationals, so he missed out on the Royals’ 1951 NBA Championship (a title won over, interestingly enough, the New York Knickerbockers).

After taking a break of a couple of years, Levane returned to the NBA to become the player-coach of the Milwaukee Hawks in 1952-53. He retired as a player and became just the full-time coach for the 1953-54 season. At this same time, Holzman’s playing career was coming to an end and he was considering leaving basketball completely. Levane convinced him to come to Milwaukee to play for him and be his assistant coach. Holzman agreed. Well, about two/thirds of the way through the season (Levane’s second losing season for the Hawks), the Hawks fired Levane and hired, yep, you guessed it, Holzman!

The Hawks moved to St. Louis the next year (Holzman retired as a player and became a full-time coach) and drafted Bob Pettit, so the next couple of years were a lot better, including a trip to the NBA Finals in 1955-56. The 1956-57 season did not start so well for Holzman and the Hawks, though, so in January 1957 the Hawks fired him as their coach following a highly disappointing 14-19 start (the Hawks would go on to win the NBA Championship the very next season!).

Meanwhile, Levane had landed a job coaching the New York Knicks for the 1958-59 season. Holzman was planning on returning to New York City to become an insurance salesman. Once again, Levane reached out to his old friend and offered him a job as a scout for the Knicks. And also once again, Holzman lasted a lot longer than Levane. Levane was fired after the one season in New York, while Holzman was the Knicks’ top scout for years, until he was cajoled into becoming the head coach of the team in 1967-68.

Finally, though, Holzman was in a position to help Levane! He hired Levane as a scout (Levane would always joke, “I did such a good job that Red wound up as the coach and I wound up scouting for him.”), a position Levane would hold (in one form or another) until, well, I dunno, really. For all I know, he’s still scouting for the Knicks at age 88! I wrote awhile back about how Levane, at the age of 71, discovered Anthony Mason, so who knows, maybe he’s still got it!

So there you have it, before the Knicks had Red, they had Fuzzy to thank! What a great guy, eh? Harvey Araton once asked Holzman to describe Levane (back in the early 1990s, when Levane suffered a stroke and was near death) and Holzman came up with a great line – “No one ever said, ‘Here comes that asshole, Fuzzy.'” Well said, Red, well said!

Thanks to Araton and the aforementioned David Kamp for their great quotes, plus thanks to both Levane and the late Holzman (who have both been, and in Fuzzy’s case, are quite vocal over the years about their days in basketball) for the information about their past!

If you folks dig these stories, you’d probably also get a kick out of my Sports Legends Revealed site. There is an archive of the ones about basketball here. I also have one Sports Legend featured every Tuesday at the LA Times.

If you have any suggestions for future Unsung Knicks History pieces, drop me a line at cronb01@aol.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!