It’s difficult to believe it’s been fifty long years since 1972. There have been many changes around the world. Some for the betterment of society. Like technology for example. In 1972 there were no smartphones (let alone cellphones) and home computers. In order to write this article in 1972, my only option would have been pen to paper or a manual typewriter, remember those things? The clicky clack sound it made. But…In the same light, not everything is better today than it was years ago. I could go on about social and economic disparity that is still a battle but this story is not about that. This story is about the sounds and the sports scene of the city. You see I grew up in New York, the South Bronx to be exact.
Even the mention of the South Bronx to someone close to my age condors up images of burnt-out tenements and burned soda caps and used heroin needles.
While my family was fortunate enough to move out of that cesspool just one year later, I’m referring to the sound of a basketball bouncing off the pavement.
It was a sound of the city. The sound of the ball was always around your neighborhood. The bounce bounce bounce day and night.
There was always a basketball court nearby whether an actual one or a makeshift one made in the street. The ghetto type was put up upon a fence with a milk crate as the basket.
Now If you were fortunate enough to live near an asphalt playground there was always room for a basketball court. Sometimes there were two full courts. But these courts for the most part had no nets on the rims. That was for the kids in Westchester and White Plains.
Here on the South Bronx courts, it was an all-metal rim. That is where we as kids lived our dream. Which was to play for the New York Knicks of course. During this time the Knicks owned New York. And Madison Square Garden was truly a Mecca for sports.
Sure the Rangers, the other tenants at MSG, were a solid hockey team with multiple postseason runs. There was even a Stanley Cup finals appearance. But they would fall short of the Cup each time.
The other sports teams, the Mets, Yankees, Jets, and Giants still were living off their past championships and had become at best mediocre.
There were two new clubs in the area, The New York Nets, and New York Islanders but the American Basketball Association was thought of as an inferior league and the Islanders were not competitive, just yet.
It was no doubt a Knicks town. Just three years earlier in 1969-1970 the Knicks led by a hobbled Willis Reed won their very first NBA Championship by beating the Jerry West-Wilt Chamberlain led Los Angeles Lakers in seven games. It was a glorious time to be a hoops fan in New York. The teamwork that club displayed was a work of art. On offense, so many hands touched the ball.
The Garden would gather into a roar as Walt Frazier passed the ball to Dave Debusschere who then passed it to Bill Bradley. Then Bradley would hit an open Dick Barnett who took the jump shot from the corner. “It’s good yessss” spoken by a very young Marv Albert on WHN radio.
This was now our time: The Boston Celtics with Bill Russell’s retirement after so many seasons on top were on the downward slide. The NBA Eastern Conference was the Knicks’ property so it seemed. But wait a new powerhouse had risen out West.
The new Milwaukee Bucks, just an expansion team in 1968, added UCLA’s Lou Alcindor at the center position in 1969. He seemed unstoppable with a hook shot that appeared to be outdated but couldn’t be blocked. They were catching up fast to the Knicks.
Then you had the Baltimore Bullets in the East with another tough player named Wes Unseld and one who seemed magical named Earl Monroe.
These two clubs along with the Lakers were serious challengers for NBA royalty. In 1970-71 the Knicks lost their newly won championship failing to defend it losing to the Earl Monroe-led Bullets in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
As far as the Knick fans of the city were concerned we might have been disappointed but we knew they would return to form. The very next season as the ball continued to hit the asphalt around the city the man who helped beat the Knicks the previous year joined them.
The Bullets Earl Monroe in a stunning trade became a New York Knick. Monroe, upset about his contract requested a trade to either the Bulls or Lakers. Instead, the Bullets sent him to New York.
The talk around the city and the Media were just how the freestyle play of Monroe would fit into the team style of play that the Knicks employed and there was just “one ball” playing with Walt Frazier an All-Star Guard. No way the two could co-exist they said.
But Earl “The Pearl” proved them wrong. He fit right in deferring scoring to others becoming an important cog in the Knicks’ game plan.
New York rode this formula all the way to the NBA Finals. Unfortunately, this year it was the Lakers who won the series giving Jerry West his first and only championship winning in five games.
By the 1972-73 campaign the Knicks (who added All-Star Center Jerry Lucas the previous season) once again found themselves in the NBA Finals led by Monroe and Frazier against the Lakers. This time the roles were reversed.
It was the New York Knicks who were NBA Champions in five games.
As fans, we thought the future was limitless. Two Championships in four seasons. Unfortunately, most of us didn’t realize this club had hit its zenith.
The very next year the Knicks lost in the postseason to a new and improved Boston Celtics club. By the following year, the parts of the Championship runs had retired and moved on. While there have been glimpses of hope with a warrior named Patrick Ewing (two NBA Finals appearances since 1973) no championships have returned. It’s been fifty long years but the basketball still bounces around the city courts awaiting glory to come once more.
And still, we wait……..