With a career spanning over 70 years, the New York Knicks have more than earned their place in basketball history. From their early days as the first NBA team to call the iconic Madison Square Garden home, through their league-leading championships in the 1970s and memorable mid-1990s tenure with Patrick Ewing, they’ve left an indelible mark on pro basketball.
The influence of the Knicks on the sport is undeniable, but how did they revolutionize it? Let’s take a look at some of the defining moments in this team’s storied history. From innovative coaching techniques to groundbreaking trades and signings, we’ll explore how one city and one team has shaped professional basketball—past, present, and future.
The Early Years: How the Knicks Were Formed
The story of the New York Knicks begins with a group of passionate basketball fans. In 1946, Ned Irish and three other partners decided to put their love for the game into action, creating the Basketball Association of America (BAA), which later became the National Basketball Association (NBA). With this new league in place, they then formed the New York Knickerbockers—also known as simply the Knicks—as one of its charter franchises.
The early years of the team were marked by a mix of successes and failures. The team made it to five championship games in a row from 1951 to 1955, but unfortunately, didn’t manage to win any titles. However, between 1969 and 1973, their fortunes changed dramatically. Under legendary coach Red Holman, the team made it to three consecutive championships and won two NBA titles in 1970 and 1973. They achieved this with a roster composed primarily of homegrown players who had come up through the ranks together—the perfect recipe for success.
The Championship Era: Winning It All in 1970 and 1973
It’s no surprise that the New York Knicks have become synonymous with success, especially during their Championship era. From 1969 to 1974, the Knicks made it to the NBA Finals four times, winning the championship in 1970 and 1973.
The championship-winning teams were led by coach Red Holzman, star guards Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe, and center Willis Reed. This talented group worked together to revolutionize basketball with a fast-paced offense that included plenty of backdoor cuts and intricate passes designed to create scoring opportunities.
The Knicks’ successful run of championships set a new standard not only for basketball but also for all professional sports. Games were sold out as soon as tickets went on sale as people clamored to be part of history in the making.
To this day, fans look back fondly on this period as one of the most exciting times in New York sports history. While the Knicks have only won two championships since then, their enduring legacy will always be remembered by fans across generations as one of sports’ greatest dynasties.
Some Years of Struggle: The Late 1970s and 1980s
No matter how successful the Knicks were in the past, they had their rough patches too. The late 1970s and 1980s were a period of struggle for the franchise. That saw them win only two division titles during that time. By 1985-1986, attendance at home games hit an all-time low, bottoming out at 11,000 fans per game.
At the same time, their New York rivals. The Nets were experiencing a streak of success and managed to draw more than 16,000 fans to their games. This was a major reason why the Knicks reevaluated their approach to the game in 1988. When they appointed Al Bianchi as General Manager and Stu Jackson as head coach.
The team slowly started to find their footing again in the late 80s. Hiring Pat Riley as head coach and drafting Mark Jackson in 1987 along with future Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing in 1985. These moves would set up the Knicks for success in the upcoming decades. As they continued to add more talent such as Derek Harper and Charles Oakley. Ultimately it was these moves — along with many others — that allowed them to make history throughout the 1990s.
Into the 21st Century: Ups and Downs of the Modern Knicks
You might not know the whole story of the New York Knicks when it comes to the 21st century. The Knicks’ performance has been rocky, to say the least — but there have been some successes.
The modern Knicks’ reign began in 2001 when the team was purchased by Cablevision. From 2002–2003, New York had their best season in years, finishing with a record of 47 wins and 35 losses. They made it to playoffs for four consecutive seasons from 2004–2007. In 2012, they traded for former MVP player and Olympic gold medalist Carmelo Anthony. And that same year they also hired Mike Woodson as head coach — setting them up for a strong 2013 season. Where they finished with a 54-55 record and reached the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
However, in recent years, their performance has faltered: they haven’t had a winning season since 2012–2013. And between 2015–2017 they had the second worst record in all of basketball. But with the emergence of rookie RJ Barrett, improved play by Julius Randle. And new head coach Tom Thibodaux leading this new era of Knicks Basketball™️ — 2020 is looking bright for New Yorkers.
From their iconic players and coaches to their passionate fans and spirit. The New York Knicks have undeniably earned their place in basketball history. They are a team that is deeply rooted in the game and have made an indelible mark on the culture and global impact of the sport. Despite their many changing faces. The Knicks are still a team that inspires both players and fans. They remain an integral part of the game that continues to influence the popular culture today.