May 8, 1970. The day that will live in New York sports history.
You have the Jets’ Super Bowl victory and the Mets’ miracle. Yet, the Knicks’ heyday in May is right there.
Like the Jets’ and Mets’ David vs. Goliath plot, the Knicks’ victory in a Game Seven May 8 victory over the Lakers couldn’t have been scripted better. It had it all and should never be forgotten for us who watched it, and told to the current sports generation.
It was the perfect buoyed series between the two teams that still is one of the best in league history. Through the first five games, there were two overtime games – split by both teams – and the biggest margin in the other games was eight points. It was as even as could be.
Los Angeles had the momentum with a 135-113 thumping in game 6, and Knicks’ captain and eventual series MVP Willis Reed was doubtful with a thigh injury for game 7.
But the 19,500 who were in attendance and for those watching the game live on ABC like myself – the New York market was blacked out live (to be seen on tape at 11:30) and only available on then sprouting MSG to a 25,000 audience –came one of the moments that still defines the Knicks and the NBA.
Reed comes out of the tunnel just before the tip to one of the most resounding cries in Madison Square Garden. The famed “Willis Reed game” was created.
Being in a Pennsylvania TV market and a youthful Knicks fan at the time, I can still remember my opened-mouth amazement. The Captain made a jump shot near the foul line and then another on the team’s first two possessions. He still had to leave the game with three minutes to go in the first half, and the Knicks had a 24-point lead that eventually ballooned to over 30, at some points.
I knew it and so did everyone else. Game over. And it was. The Lakers and Wilt Chamberlain were done.The Knicks seemingly couldn’t miss. We all knew the outcome, but just had to wait for it.
It was Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley, Dick Barnett, and the young bench of Cazzie Russell, Dave Stallworth, Mike Riordan, Nate Bowman, Bill Hosket and rookie John Warren.
Only DeBusschere and Barnett had seven or more years experience in the league. A perfect youthful blend with the perfect coach, Red Holzman. Everyone played their role. Pass the ball, work for the best shot, and play straight-up man defense.
Reed was the MVP, yet Frazier was magnificent throughout the series with the closest triple-double averaging 17.6 points, 10.4 assists, and 7.7 rebounds. Frazier had a scintillating 36-point, 19-assist and seven-rebound effort in Game Seven.
They played in the same hemisphere for the next three seasons, but could only grab one more crown in 1973.
On an electric night in May 50 years ago, though, the Knicks were kings and deserved it. A legend was born that night and should always be remembered.