One by one Saturday night, they made their way to the eight chairs that lined the left side of the Knicks logo at center court at Madison Square Garden. Some walked alone. Bill Bradley pushed Dick Barnett’s wheelchair. Earl Monroe uses a cane.
They didn’t chop and swirl like today’s Knicks. They didn’t have the same rapid rides as the other former stars in attendance, bridging the gap from the 1972-73 championship team to today’s team. But the six members of the Knicks’ “Golden Anniversary” team — along with the sons of the late Dave DeBusschere and Dean Meminger — had their memories of reaching the top of the NBA, a pinnacle in franchise history that hasn’t been reached since.
The 1972-73 team was honored on the 50th anniversary of its title at halftime of the Knicks’ 128-106 victory over the Pelicans, with Barnett, Bradley, Monroe, Jerry Lucas, Henry Bibby and Walt Frazier in attendance. Phil Jackson was invited by the Knicks, but did not attend. Some light boos came from the crowd at the mention of Jackson, the team’s former president, who was fired in 2017.
“We had a veteran group,” Frazier said during the ceremony. “We understood the nuances of having ‘New York’ on our chest. We knew the expectations were high, but we enjoyed those expectations because we knew we were living in the greatest city in the world.”
Willis Reed addressed the crowd via a pre-recorded video. Other former Knicks greeted the 1972-73 team on the court. Patrick Ewing thanked the championship team, in a video, that laid the foundation when he arrived as a draft pick in 1985.
When current Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau thought back to his childhood days watching that championship team, he first remembered what the team meant to the city. He thought about how his father, Tom Thibodeau Sr., was a fan.
“It’s funny, guys come back and that’s the beauty of a championship team,” Thibodeau said before the game. “You’re bound together forever, but what does it mean to all the different generations of people.”
That year’s team went 57-25 during the regular season, finishing 11 games behind Boston in the Atlantic Division, but then defeated the Baltimore Bullets, Celtics and Lakers in the playoffs.
Thibodeau recalled how Bradley moved without the ball, how Frazier backed up defenders and shot over his shoulder, how Reid made his layups and jump shots, how Barnett made the leg kick.
Before the game, Jalen Brunson stood over the Knicks logo at center court at MSG, a microphone in hand. With his current Knicks teammates on their bench, the guard talked about how the 1972-73 team is a team that the current team — trying to break a 50-year title drought — has tried to embody because of hard work and of the selflessness of these players. and sacrifice.
“We’re going to try to continue to celebrate these legends and honor them and make them proud,” Branson told the crowd.