ACL Tear, Basketball, Basketball Career, Bernard King, Darrell Walker, Earl Monroe, Earl The Pearl, Ernie Grunfeld, Futility, Knickerbockers, Knicks, Larry Bird, NBA, New York Knicks, NY Knicks, Ray Williams, Self-Discovery
I usually keep it kind of heavy on Memorial Day. Between what Memorial Day is really about — America’s fallen soldiers, sailors, marines and pilots — and the abuse and domestic violence I’ve seen and experienced on Memorial Day ’82, I consider any Memorial Day that’s incident-free a good one.
But in light of the running theme of this year — that being a look back at the world in which I lived in’84 — I wouldn’t be providing a complete account if I didn’t talk about my Knicks at least once. To think that it’s been forty-one years since they last won a title is just, well, atrociously pathetic. It’s like being a New York Rangers fan in ’94 — oh yeah, that was me, too! I actually do have a few memories of the Knicks of Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Willis Reed, Bill Bradley and Earl “The Pearl” Monroe (my Mom and Uncle Sam gave me “Earl” as a middle name because of him back in ’69), but they’re very vague memories, almost snapshots. I was three and change, after all, hardly old enough to appreciate great defense, the midrange J, the turnaround J, or setting up defenders off the dribble to beat them to the hoop like these guys did.
I came into my own with basketball in ’83, just after the Knicks and Micheal Ray Richardson parted ways (that’s an understatement!). At that point, my Knicks had only sucked for the better part of a decade, but now with Bernard King as their superstar, and the coke-snorting Richardson gone, things were going to allegedly get better for the team. At least, according to the New York Post and New York Daily News. With disciplinarian Hubie Brown as head coach, we’d have a serious chance to compete with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson and the rest of the hated Boston Celtics.
I loved watching King play. He could nail a J from anywhere. Off the dribble, double-teamed, facing the basket, off a screen, top of the key, with his back to the basket. He could also drive to the hole with ease. King could score at will, and back in ’84, probably in his sleep, too. He wasn’t by any stretch a great defender, the big knock on King throughout most of his career. Between Reggie Jackson and Dwight Gooden, though, there was King for me.
Not only did we have the Brooklyn native as the Knicks centerpiece for ending the Celtics’ dominance of the East. We had Louis Orr. We had Rory Sparrow. We had Bill Cartwright. We had Trent Tucker. We had Mount Vernon, New York’s own Ray Williams (may he RIP). We had just drafted Darrell Walker, known to defend with ferociousness. We even had Ernie Grunfeld — once the all-time leading scorer in the University of Tennessee’s Men’s Basketball history — coming off the bench. Yeah, it was going to be playoffs and contending for championships for the foreseeable future.
Really, who was I kidding? What was the New York sports media snorting and injecting? Outside of Williams, Cartwright and Walker, no one on the team defended consistently enough to stop Mike Gminski on the Nets, much less Bird, Parish or McHale. But boy did they entertain! King scoring 50 or more in games on WOR-Channel 9 (before MSG got their own channel and broadcast all of the games themselves) was such a treat! I actually enjoyed it when Walker and Danny Ainge got into a fight during the second round of the NBA playoffs in ’84. Those were pretty good teams with King as a scoring machine. Pretty good, but hardly good enough.
I actually cried after the Celtics slaughtered my Knicks at the Boston Garden in Game Seven of that May ’84 Conference Semifinal series, 121-104. I cried even more, though, after King tore up his right knee’s ACL in a game against the then Kansas City Kings in March ’85, in the middle of an already miserable season. It lead to the Knicks in the first-ever NBA Draft Lottery, them getting the #1 pick, and Patrick Ewing in the process. But King and Ewing would never play a game together, both with injuries throughout the 1985-86 and 1986-87 seasons. It would be nearly another decade before my Knicks were strong enough to be part of any serious championship conversation.
Failure is a part of life, but so is hope. And back in May ’84, all I could do as a naive fourteen-year-old growing up in basketball’s mecca was hope. As I hope that someone will end the insanity that has been James Dolan and the Knicks on 33rd and Madison soon.