The Knicks began their life 75 years ago as the hottest team in the BAA (which three years later would become the NBA). They won their debut game in Toronto, 68-66, on Nov. 1, 1946, and then sandwiched a road win over the St. Louis Bombers between losses to the Chicago Stags both on the road and in the franchise’s first-ever home game (78-68, in front of 17,205 at the old Garden on 50th Street) to put them 2-2 after four games.
Then came the first winning stretch in team history: nine in a row and 12 out of 13. The run was capped by an 83-68 win over the Providence Steamrollers on Dec. 11 that elevated the Knicks’ record to 14-3 and gave them a one-game lead in the Eastern Division over coach Red Auerbach’s Washington Capitols.
Only 3,118 watched that one, but with good reason: The Knicks were outsourced to the 69th Regiment Armory (capacity: 5,200), located at 25th Street and Lexington Avenue (ticket prices: $1.50, $2, $2.75 and $3.50). The Rangers had a date with the Canadiens that night at Madison Square Garden, and that took precedence. In fact, only six of the Knicks’ 30 home games were booked for the Garden.
Such would be the case throughout the early years of the Knicks…
Continuing the countdown of the 75 greatest figures in Knicks history:
Part I: No. 75 Jeremy Lin to No. 66 Doc Rivers | Coming next week: No. 55 to No. 46
65. J.R. Smith, Guard (2011-15)
It will surprise exactly nobody to discover that Smith is eighth on the Knicks’ all-time list for both 3-pointers attempted (1,199) and made (443). He is also the unofficial leader in most games in which he inspired you to leap to your feet in both sheer joy and absolute agony.
But he was an effective Knick on two playoff teams, capped by the 2012-13 season, when he averaged 18.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists in capturing the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award and helping propel the Knicks to a 54-28 record and their only playoff-series win since 2000 – though he helped make that victory over the Celtics interesting by getting ejected from Game 4.
“J.R. makes you laugh and cry,” his coach Mike Woodson said. “Sometimes on the same possession.”
64. Dick Van Arsdale, Guard (1965-68)
Better known as a member of the Phoenix Suns, with whom he was a three-time All-Star after being selected off the Knicks’ roster in the 1968 expansion draft, Van Arsdale was a key figure in helping the Knicks of the mid-’60s gain credibility, averaging 12.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists in three seasons, the latter two culminating in the team’s first two playoff appearances in eight years.
The 13th pick of the ’65 draft out of Indiana (his twin brother, Tom, went one slot later to the Pistons), his high point as a Knick was a 17-point, nine-rebound effort against the Celtics in the ’67 playoffs.
63. Ernie Grunfeld, Guard/Forward (1982-86); Executive (1990-99)
A star at Forest Hills High School and the University of Tennessee (where he teamed with future Knicks teammate Bernard King to form the high-flying “Bernie and Ernie Show”), Grunfeld won gold with the ’76 Olympic team and was a rugged, reliable backup for all of his four years as a Knicks player, averaging 5.6 points and 2.2 rebounds.
But it was once he switched to the front office that his greatest impact was felt. A swift climb up the Knicks’ corporate ladder culminated with him becoming GM before the 1993-94 season. Together with Dave Checketts he put together teams that went to two Finals, in 1994 and ’99, though he wasn’t around to enjoy the second one because Checketts abruptly fired him late in the ’99 season after Grunfeld and Jeff Van Gundy became entangled in a turf war.
62. Dean Meminger, Guard (1971-77)
Dean the Dream was one of the best high school players ever to come out of New York City, starring at Rice High School and later at Marquette, where he led the Warriors to the 1970 NIT title at the Garden, winning the tournament’s MVP Award.
Taken with the 16th pick of the first round in ’71, Meminger had an immediate impact on the Knicks, settling into the third guard slot behind Clyde Frazier and Earl Monroe and making key contributions to both the ’72 and ’73 teams, which each played the Lakers in the Finals, losing in five the first time and winning in five the next. He averaged 6.1 points and 2.5 assists for his six-year career.
61. Tyson Chandler, Center (2011-14)
He arrived after helping the Mavericks to the 2011 NBA title and his impact was immediate. One of the most dominant interior presences the Knicks have ever had, Chandler was named to the 2013 All-Star team, averaging 10.4 points, 10.7 rebounds and shooting 64 percent from the floor. He was hurt in the playoffs, though, which sank the Knicks against the Pacers.
He is second in Knicks history in field-goal percentage (.638) and two-point field goal percentage (.640), ninth in blocks per game (1.2) and 10th in rebounds per game (10.1).
60. Walt Bellamy, Center (1965-68)
Like Butch Komives (No. 74 on the list), he is best-remembered for being half of the 2-for-1 bonanza of a deal that brought Dave DeBusschere to town from Detroit and permanently altered the Knicks’ destiny.
Bellamy was an excellent, if occasionally moody, player with the Knicks, averaging 18.9 points and 13.3 rebounds in 268 games, marks that still rank 10thall-time (scoring) and first all-time (rebounding). But his departure not only brought DeBusschere to town, it allowed Willis Reed to move from forward to center, so his legacy with the team is doubly unique.
59. Ernie Vandeweghe, Guard/Forward (1949-56)
Maybe the most well-rounded Knicks player of all time, Vandeweghe was teammates at Colgate with fellow Knicks great Carl Braun, married Miss America 1952 (Colleen Kay Hutchins), fathered a future Knick (Kiki) and also was a key member of Knicks teams that went to three straight Finals – all while he was a full-time medical student at Columbia and earning $100 a game because he never wanted to commit to a full-time contract given his uncertain off-court schedule.
“He would go to class and labs, then take the last possible plane or train to get to where the Knicks were going,” ex-Knicks broadcaster Marty Glickman wrote in his memoir. “I saw him come into the Butler field house with his shoelaces still untied. [Coach Joe] Lapchick called a timeout. Vandy ran in, tied his shoelaces and got into the play.”
58. Gerald Wilkins, Guard/Forward (1985-92)
Destined to be forever overshadowed both by his older brother, Dominique, and by the other member of the Knicks’ 1985 rookie class (Patrick Ewing), Wilkins nevertheless had a terrific run with the Knicks, averaging as many as 19.1 points per game in 1987 and 14.9 points overall in 555 games as a Knick.
He’s ninth on the team’s all-time steals list with 614 (one slot ahead of Frazier, at 589). Wilkins’ apex as a Knick was a 34-point explosion on 16-for-21 shooting against Philadelphia in Game 1 of what became a three-game sweep of the 76ers in the ’89 playoffs.
57. Hubie Brown, Head coach (1982-87)
When Brown took over the Knicks in 1982, they were a broken franchise, barely a whisper of their dynastic glory days. His impact was immediate: his first two Knicks teams made the playoffs and each won a series. In ’84, he rode Bernard King all the way to Game 7 against the eventual champion Celtics.
But then King got hurt and Brown could never regain traction, even after the Knicks won the 1985 lottery and drafted Ewing. It seems unfair that his record as Knicks coach is a forgettable 142-202 because anyone who saw what Brown did his first two years knows he helped resuscitate the franchise and the Garden experience.
56. Sonny Hertzberg, Guard (1946-47)
Hertzberg, who played his high school ball at Samuel Tilden and then was teammates with Red Holzman at CCNY, was the leading scorer for the very first Knicks team, totaling 515 points in 59 games for an 8.7 average.
In the Knicks’ first playoff win, an 86-74 triumph over the Cleveland Rebels, he scored 14 points, bouncing back from going scoreless in Game 1. The Knicks won that series, 2-1. Hertzberg later assisted Lapchick and took over as head coach for a time when Lapchick was ill.
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