It’s been 50 long years since the New York Knicks won the first of their two NBA Championships. Friday past, March 8, marked the most memorable night in their history. A dramatic 113-99 win over the Los Angeles Lakers at Madison Square Garden, long before its current owners branded it, the World’s Most Famous Arena.
In actuality, May 8, 1970 was also on a Friday. Michael Jackson, performing with four of his brothers, the Jackson 5, dropped their second album, “ABC,” a classic, on this day. The Beatles dropped one too, their last recorded studio album together, also a classic, “Let It Be.”
It was a year to the day before Muhammad Ali lost to Joe Frazier at MSG, the first of their three great fights. The Knicks surprisingly defeated the heavily favored Lakers in Game 7 that night although their star player, team captain, center Willis Reed, the MVP of the series who had severely torn a thigh muscle in the second quarter of Game 5 of the NBA Championship, wasn’t able to play in Game 6.
Four days before the Knicks’ greatest win in their history, the Ohio National Guard had murdered four unarmed Kent State college students protesting the Vietnam War and the presence of the National Guard on their Ohio campus. Six days later, in Mississippi, police officers murdered two Jackson State HBCU college students during their peaceful, on-campus, anti-war protest.
Model Naomi Campbell and actress Tina Fey would be born later in the month. The first Earth Day was inaugurated a few weeks before. Rock legends Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin would die from drug-related causes later that year.
The Knicks’ greatest win in 1970 came during an interesting time in American history. The term, “It’s complicated,” doesn’t even properly describe it. There were a variety of problems in government. There were social problems and civil unrest and problems abroad, all compounded by the impact that the effects of drugs were beginning to have on our communities.
But with all of the unrest, the Knicks were able to navigate through the 1969-’70 season with the best record in basketball, a 60 and 22 season.
With only three rounds of playoffs back then, there were less teams. The Knicks defeated the Washington Bullets during Round 1 in a hard-fought seven games series. They overtook the Milwaukee Bucks with their 7-foot-plus center New York City prodigy Kareem Abdul Jabbar in five to represent the Eastern Conference.
The series with L.A. was also a battle. Future Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West, whose silhouette is used as the NBA logo, were on that team.
The Knicks won Game 1, held at the Garden, and lost the second. In Games 3 and 4 held in Los Angeles, the Knicks again won the first and lost the second. Both Games 3 and 4 went into overtime.
Game 5 where Reed was injured, with the Knicks team pulling out a win, was in New York. Game 6, the game that Reed was unable to play, was in L.A. It was the only blowout of the series, a 135-113 Lakers win. On the other hand, with a hobbled Reed surprisingly back in the lineup for Game 7 in New York, the Knicks pulled off a stunning defeat of the Lakers.
It’s the game where Reed, unannounced, walked through the Garden tunnel from the locker room emerging onto the court, shocking his teammates, the Lakers, and the crowd in attendance. Reed scored 4 of 5 of the Knicks’ first points of the game. The first, a short jumper off an assist from guard Walt “Clyde” Frazier, who had stepped to give one of the most amazing Game 7
performances in NBA history.
Frazier dropped 36 points and dished off 19 assists with 7 rebounds, making him responsible for 74 of the 113 points that the Knicks scored that night, the team’s 38th straight sellout that season.
During the post game interview with famed sports personality Howard Cosell, Frazier said, “With Willis out of the game, I had to contribute more offense.” He notably took it upon himself to do so.
Cosell responded, “You and the Knicks are world champions.” Clyde said proudly, twice, “Of all the world. Of the world.”