Knicks 1973 Championship: Game Time

Even if some players didn’t think the grueling Boston series and quick turnaround would take its toll on the Knicks, it probably did. They dropped Game 1 to the Lakers, 115-112.

“We actually did pretty good late in the game, but early on, we didn’t play well at all,” Reed said. “But still, we thought — we believed — that there was no way the Lakers could beat us. So it was just a matter of getting ourselves focused on what we had to do.”

“It was almost like we won that first game; our confidence didn’t wane one bit,” Monroe said. “We knew what we had to do and we were ready and up for the task. We went back to the locker room and basically said, ‘OK, we lost that one. Let’s go win the next one.”

They actually won the next three, giving the Knicks a 3-1 series lead going into the final game. The Knicks had the Lakers on the ropes and the championship was in their sights.

“Going into this game, as Red always said, ‘You can’t throw your jock out there,'” Monroe said. “You’ve got to go out and beat these guys.”

“We didn’t want to turn this into a sixth game,” Bradley said, “because once you get to a sixth game, who knows what’s going to happen.”

“Before the game, Holzman said, ‘Clyde, keep the ball moving. Get everybody involved,'” Frazier said. “That’s what I was focusing on when I ran out there.”

The Knicks quickly found their rhythm in the first quarter, moving the ball around freely and getting shots from the perimeter to take an early lead.

“We started off pretty fast during this first quarter,” Monroe said. “That was very important, especially being in L.A. Being able to be up at the first quarter gave us a sense of comfort that we could go ahead and close this out.”

The Lakers would not lie down so easily. Let by West and Chamberlain, they mounted a comeback to negate a nine-point Knicks lead and move ahead late in the first half.

“You expect that on the road,” Frazier said. “You get prepared for those runs. You know they’re coming. And when we got back to the bench [on a timeout], Holzman was cool and calm. That’s the thing about Red, whether we were in the lead or we blew a lead, you come back to the bench and he’s always the same. He gives you confidence when you see him standing there. ‘Alright, this is what we’re going to do and this is how we’re going to do it.’ He never panicked and that filtered down to the team.”

“The Knicks never panicked,” Lucas said. “We were a confident team. There are ebbs and flows in a game. A team will start out well, but you can’t make every shot. A team is going to make a run and you’re going to miss some shots. You have to be confident in what you’re doing and stick to your game plan.”

In the final seconds of the half, DeBusschere caught the Lakers off guard to return the lead to the Knicks.

“Dave got the rebound and took it all the way,” Bradley said. “The was something he could do. In other words, we’d have virtually anybody bring the ball up, except the center. And they got back slow, he saw the opening, and he took it.”

“At halftime, we were discussing keeping the pace, controlling the tempo, keeping it a half-court game, just doing what we were doing,” Frazier said. “We were successful with West; he hadn’t really hurt us at that point. Chamberlain hadn’t run amok. So we were in a pretty good position.”

The third quarter went decidedly in the Knicks favor. The bench, led by forward Phil Jackson, helped catapult the Knicks lead back up to 14.

“If we wanted a game change, all we had to do was put Phil in the game,” Reed said. “And he was going to change the game defensively. He was going to have an impact on the game.”

“Phil was a disrupter,” Lucas said. “He had those flailing arms that went all over the place. When Phil came into the game, something was going to happen. He wasn’t the greatest shooter in the world, but he could score. He could slice. He would work hard to get rebounds. He was very important to our team, to the movement of our team, and to the success of our team.”

Despite a 12-point lead, tragedy befell the Knicks in the fourth quarter. As DeBusschere went in for a routine layup, he came down awkwardly on his ankle and had to come out of the game.

“We were all very concerned at this point,” Frazier said. “[We’re wondering] how severe this is. Rebounding, scoring, [Dave was] the consummate player.  So seeing him leave the court was daunting.”

“For a moment, it’s devastating,” Lucas said. “He’s such an important part of our team, but then what happens is you rally. You realize, ‘Hey, we’ve got to step up. We’ve all got to do a little bit more. We have to work harder.”

“Phil came in,” Bradley said. “We have confidence in Phil. We’re just going to continue to play our game, which we did. We regrouped and were each determined to do more to make up for Dave’s absence in order to win the championship.”

The Lakers rattled off six straight points to close the gap late in the quarter, but still the confident Knicks never flustered.

“We had the philosophy that if we were down, we wanted to be under 10 points with five minutes to play,” Reed said. “If we were under 10 with five to play, we can win that game. Everybody’s got to concentrate on defense. Offensively, we’ve got to run our plays, got to execute and got to get it to the hot hand.”

That hand belonged to Monroe, who sunk eight points in the final two minutes to seal the game shut.

“[After that], we knew we had this one in the bag,” Frazier said. “Nothing is sweeter than that.”

“I think I was sitting on the bench, and I just jumped,” Lucas said. “I leaped and my hands were in the air. I was so excited. I was looking forward to hugging a teammate, congratulating him and congratulating all of them. It was remarkable.

“It’s something you can’t really describe. You have to experience it for yourself. It exudes throughout your whole body. The elation and the thrill and the feeling of accomplishment are just incredible.”

“That ’72-’73 season was the most enjoyable season of basketball I ever played,” Bradley said. “The team was very special. We had a great complementary set of talents and personalities and it was just fun to play.”

“I was part of a great group of men,” Reed said. “A great organization. That’s a moment that will always be a part of my life.”

“I am and always will be a basketball player,” Lucas said. “And the culmination of my basketball career happened that particular night in 1973 when we won the world championship.”

 

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Knicks 1973 Championship: Road to the Championship

The Knicks’ return to the Finals in 1973 essentially began the year before, after losing to the Lakers in the ’72 Finals.

“We all felt that we should have won that series,” Monroe said. “At that time, we made a vow among ourselves that we were going to get back to this point next year and win this.”

“We had a veteran team and we always talked championship from day one, coming into camp,” Frazier said. “Our captain, Willis Reed, was the catalyst for that. Always upbeat, very confident. So we felt that at that point, possibly yeah, this might be our year again. Maybe we could get back to the Finals and win it.”

Despite being comprised of personalities as diverse as New York itself — Clyde the flashy showman, Monroe the slick ball handler, Bradley the hard-working Rhodes scholar — the Knicks displayed great chemistry as a team because they were unselfish and single-minded in their collective goal of winning a championship.

“Our purpose was to win basketball games,” Lucas said. “Sometimes somebody would get 30 points, somebody else might get five. Another game, that guy who got five might get 25. And that guy [with 25] might only get seven. It didn’t make any difference to us.”

“There were no personality conflicts here,” Bradley said. “Everybody supported each other and we were committed to playing the best each of us could play. We all recognized that no one of us could be as good as all five of us together.”

“Once we started to play [as a team], with the ball moving freely around the perimeter, other teams had difficulty focusing on one guy,” Frazier said. “They couldn’t focus on Frazier or Monroe, Bradley might get off. Willis might get off. Anybody could score.”

“We flew home [from Boston] that Sunday night and got up Monday, and flew to L.A.,” Reed said. “We had a film session that Tuesday in the hotel and went out, and played the game that night. We didn’t even have a practice.”

“I don’t think it bothered us,” Bradley said of the less than 48 hours between games. “We were so charged up by the win in Boston, it was almost like, ‘Bring ’em on!'”

“It’s not very hard getting prepared for the Finals after a series like that Boston series,” Monroe said. “If anything, it kind of got you up to be able to play the next series. You’re going in there with your feelings sky high because you’ve just done something that nobody else has done before — win the seventh game on Boston’s floor.”

“They spanked us the previous year, four to one,” Frazier said. “So we knew they were pretty much the same team. We knew what we had to do. We played our game. Defense is our best offense. And if we moved the ball around fluidly, we’d have a chance to win.”

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Knicks 1973 Championship: Perfecting the Perfect Team

After winning it all in 1970, Holzman’s team reached the Eastern Conference Finals in the 1970-71 season, but lost to the Baltimore Bullets. The following season, in which they returned to the finals (but lost to the Lakers), the Knicks added two vital components that would return them to glory.

“There were a number of changes that took place in the ’71-72 season,” Bradley said. “And one of the changes was the addition of Earl, who is a unique player and who has tremendous character, and who sacrificed a lot of superstardom in order to make the team better.”

“When Earl was with Baltimore, he was the guy,” Frazier said. “He shot the ball 30 times and they wanted him to shoot. But now he comes to the Knicks and he had to conform to a team concept.”

“When I was in Baltimore, I had a different rhythm of playing,” Monroe said. “It was my rhythm. When I came to New York, it had a different rhythm. It was more or less Clyde’s rhythm.”

“People were worried that one ball wouldn’t be enough for a backcourt of Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe,” Bradley joked. “And that wasn’t the case. They both joined together and created a tremendous backcourt, and played the same kind of unselfish basketball that we had played for years.”

“A lot of people thought it would never work,” Frazier said. “They underestimated the mutual respect we had for each other. We never allowed our egos to get involved and it never deterred us from what our goal was, and that was to win a championship.

“But I give credit to Earl because I didn’t change my game,” he added. “He had to change his game. He had to be more team oriented. He had to play defense and, to his credit, he did that.”

“The second addition to the Knicks that year was Jerry Lucas,” Bradley said. “Jerry brought an intelligence to the game that was just fun to play with.”

Lucas, who is now among the leading authorities on the human memory and has written books and given lectures on the subject, used his intellect to give the Knicks a rather unique advantage.

“I memorized every play of every team in the NBA,” he said. “So [when a team called a play], I would call out one of our plays that was exactly like the play they were going to run.”

Besides his mind games, Lucas was a great outside shooter, a skill that wrecked havoc on opposing defenses.

“Jerry would have been the greatest three-point shooter of all time if we had the three-point line at that time,” Reed said. “[When I played against him], I hated to guard Lucas because you’d be so far away from the basket, but that’s where he played. It created uncertainty for the defense because centers weren’t going to come out there. And then if a forward guarded him, who’s going to guard our other forward, DeBusschere? So it really created chaos for people.”

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Knicks 1973 Championship: The Ultimate Team

“It was the ultimate team,” said Jerry Lucas, center for the 1973 NBA champion Knicks. “I knew I was with a group of men that maybe was the most unique group of basketball players ever assembled.

“We had some warriors on that team,” remembered Willis Reed, the team’s starting center and finals MVP. “We had guys who had shown that they were great NBA players. When we looked at each other in that locker room, we knew we were warriors.”

Reed, Lucas, Bill Bradley, Walt “Clyde” Frazier,  Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, and Dave DeBusschere — all Hall of Famers —  brought the Knicks their last NBA title by beating the Lakers four games to one on May 10, 1973. While New York’s first championship in 1970, also against the Lakers, is perhaps better remembered by Knicks fans, MSG Network’s recent discovery of a copy of the deciding Game 5 of the ’73 series will finally give the Knicks’ second championship its due.

For Lucas and Monroe, who weren’t on the team in 1970, this game will always be remembered as a highlight of their time in the NBA.

“This was the first time in my life that I had an opportunity to win an NBA championship,” Lucas said. “This particular game is kind of the crown jewel of my basketball career.”

“There are so many guys who are great players, who have never won championships,” Monroe said. “That doesn’t take anything away from their careers, but when you win a championship, it kind of signifies that you were there … I never got back to another championship. Even though I lost two [with the Baltimore Bullets], I won one and that’s what’s up.”

“Yes, it was great to win and that’s the purpose of playing,” Lucas added, “but the way we won, what led up to winning, and the relationships and interactivity among us all was very, very important. Those are the things that create lasting memories.”

“In my heart, the ’73 championship was the best,” Reed said. “We had some great ball handlers, great shooters in all positions. Even though we were not an awesome team in terms of being physical, we were very good defensively … Smarts and the unselfishness of the team, those were our attributes.”

Said Lucas, “We weren’t the biggest. We weren’t the strongest. We were the smartest. We understood the game better than anybody else.”

“We knew how to play the game,” starting forward Bradley said. “We knew how to complement each other. And we desperately wanted to win.”

“That was what [head coach] Red Holzman demanded,” guard Frazier said. “If you didn’t play as a team, then you weren’t going to get in the game. If you didn’t play defense, you weren’t going to get in the game. If you didn’t hit the open man, you weren’t going to play for Red Holzman. He set the standard and the other players just followed that.”

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Rematch Against Familiar Rival

Having met in the Finals three of the last four years, the Knicks and Lakers were old foes. Each team had their share of superstars and the rematch of last year’s finals promised to be an epic battle.

“We were arch rivals,” Frazier said, “and we were meeting these guys almost annually in the Finals. So that really catapulted basketball in a way because you had these two major cities vying for a title. West and Frazier. Chamberlain and Reed. All these big names.”

“The Lakers were a great team,” Monroe said. “With Wilt Chamberlain, who, for me, was the greatest player of all time. You had Jerry West. [Gail] Goodrich. Top-tier guys. Guys who had been in the playoffs. Guys who are all-time players.”

“We matched up well with them,” Lucas said. “We knew we could play against them. We knew we could take advantage of them. We felt confident. We knew we could beat them if we did what we needed to do.”

“I had to try to contain West,” Frazier said. “If I could keep him to 25 points, I’ve done a good job. His strength is his quickness and savvy. He’s always looking to come off pick-and-rolls. On defense, he’s always lurking. He knew he had Chamberlain [inside], so he’d entice you to penetrate. So now you get inside, you’ve got to look for Wilt. And West would come from behind and knock the ball away.”

“Bill Bridges guarded me,” Bradley said, “and Bill Bridges is two inches taller than I am, and about 30 to 40 pounds heavier. If I was going to try to go against him inside, it would be impossible. He’d smash me. So what I did was I ran him. I ran him down the floor, across the floor, back out … I remember doing this a couple of times and Bridges saying to me, ‘Hey, how about slowing down?’ I thought, ‘Well, that’s good information. Let me keep running.'”

“Obviously, we were concerned with Chamberlain,” Frazier said. “When he gets the ball inside, we’re looking to try to double him and help out Willis.”

“You can’t stop Wilt Chamberlain, especially if he gets it underneath,” Lucas said. “If he got it underneath, get out of the way. I remember my first game against Wilt. The first thing he said to me was, ‘Rookie, if I get a rebound under the basket, get away from me or I’ll break your arm.'”

“Chamberlain wasn’t that comfortable [shooting from outside],” Frazier said. “So we had to get him away from the basket.”

“I took the ball away from the basket,” Lucas said. “We would set a screen offside and I would move out, and the ball would come to me. Wilt was not going to come out on me. When he did, we had an even bigger advantage because I could go around him or get the ball to DeBusschere or Bradley.

“That’s where your intelligence comes in,” he added. “You have to do things to take advantage of somebody who is that great and that powerful, and that awesome.”

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Restoring Its Former Glory: Part IV

An elated Mattucci, who had mostly kept the news of the tape’s existence under wraps in case the transfer was unsuccessful, could finally let the cat out of the bag. “I felt like I was pregnant,” he joked. “I had this great news, but I couldn’t tell anybody for three months.”

Finally, a missing chapter of Knicks history has been restored. The rebroadcast of Game 5 will give many Knicks fans the chance to see one of the greatest Knicks teams in action for the first time.

“The ’73 Knicks team, which achieved just as much success as the 1970 team, is now in the spotlight because we have the broadcast to tell the story,” Mattucci said. “And it really was the last hurrah for this core group of guys who had great chemistry together. Reed retired in 1974, DeBusschere retired. Frazier, Monroe and Bradley were at the end of their careers. 1973 was the end of a dynasty.”

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Restoring Its Former Glory: Part III

To rid the tapes of the sticky-shed syndrome, Schechter first tried to absorb the moisture by sealing the tapes in an airtight bag with desiccant, such as silica gel, for a month. That didn’t work. Then he scrubbed the tapes clean with a tape cleaning machine. The tapes were still sticky. Then he incubated, or baked, the tapes at a low temperature in a specialized oven. Still, the stickiness remained.

Having exhausted the proven remedies for sticky-shed syndrome, Schechter began to invent his own. Without a “guinea pig” tape to test out his theories, he didn’t know if these unproven methods would rescue the tapes or potentially damage them further. He lubricated the Cartrivision’s tape heads with Teflon. He froze the tapes. He modified the cleaning machine to scrub the tapes with isopropyl alcohol.

Then, at 2:00 a.m. on that Saturday morning, he raised the temperature of the incubator to just below that at which plastic melts. If Schechter was wrong, it would destroy the tapes. “I knew it was a one-way trip,” he said. “But it was either that or nothing. I was basically out of options.”

When he removed the tape 24 hours later, the plastic reels had begun to melt, but the tape stayed intact. He described the feeling as pure euphoria when both cassettes actually played from beginning to end without getting stuck and he was able to record the video digitally.

Now, the damage the deterioration caused had to be fixed. The picture was shaky in parts. It bent at the top. It jumped. It went completely blank or cut to snow for frames at a time. The sound warbled and faded in and out. In short, the game was unwatchable.

The recording was split into its audio and video tracks, so each could be worked on separately. On the video end, the damaged frames had to be repaired or replaced and here’s where Cartrivision’s compression technology literally saved the game.

Basically, the Cartrivision system captured only one video field when recording (two fields make up a video frame). On playback, it repeated that same field three times. Your eye, coupled with the analog televisions of the 1970s, compensated for the lost images so that the missing fields were imperceptible. For every one damaged field on the tape, Schechter had two “spare” fields.

“The problems digitally were only on one field, generally,” Schechter explained. “That means I had two other fields with the same images that I could replace it with. Cartrivision’s form of compression gave us the tools to replace the damaged image.”

Other damage was beyond repair. In some places, the picture warped or went to snow at the top and bottom of the screen. In those cases, Schechter’s team enlarged the image. Sometimes the color would completely drop out, so they used a sepia tone so the change isn’t as dramatic.

Restoring the video took about four days. Fixing the audio, a matter of erasing dull sounds, restoring high frequencies and removing background noise, took about half that time. Once the audio and video were synced back together, a broadcast quality copy of Game 5 of the 1973 NBA Finals finally existed.

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Restoring Its Former Glory: Part II

Back in December, Mattucci was looking for copies of the 1973 Finals for the upcoming 40th anniversary. He turned to a private collector known in the television industry to have a vast archive of master tapes, everything from sitcoms to sporting events. The collector said that he had a copy of Game 5, although it wasn’t a master. Instead, it was a home recording on Cartrivision.

“Cartri-what?” Mattucci remembered saying, a response typical of most who’ve never heard of the antiquated recording device that debuted three years before the Sony Betamax. “What does that even mean?”

Essentially the first VCR, Cartrivision debuted in 1972 and a handful were sold before its manufacturer, Cartridge Television, went out of business some 18 months later. Among Cartrivision’s pioneering qualities was the ability to record up to 114 minutes of TV on a single cartridge. It did this by using extremely thin tape, stacking the reels vertically in the cartridge instead of side by side, and employing a crude form of video compression technology, a trait that would prove surprisingly vital to the restoration process.

The 40-year-old cassettes were as damaged as they were rare. The edges of the half-inch tape were wrinkled and deterioration had caused the tape itself to become soft and sticky, a condition known as binder hydrolysis or “sticky-shed syndrome.” Tapes with sticky-shed can jam during playback, stretching the tape and possibly breaking it. Not only did the tapes need to be cleaned, but in order to transfer the video to a digital format, they needed to be played in a working Cartrivision machine. “Good luck finding one” was what the collector told Mattucci.

“The odds were stacked against us on many levels,” Mattucci said. “Like a conveyor belt of things had to happen in order for this game to be broadcast. And if one of those things didn’t fall into place, the whole process would have stopped. There was no guarantee of success at all. In fact, it was more likely that this wasn’t going to happen. But because of the magnitude of the game, how could we not give it a chance?”

When Mattucci first approached DuArt with the project, Schechter wanted nothing to do with it. “‘Take it elsewhere,’ I told him,” Schechter recalled. “I knew the effort it would take. I didn’t own a Cartrivision machine and probably would never see a Cartrivision tape again. It wasn’t worth my time.”

Mattucci tried another postproduction house, in Philadelphia, and a guy in Portland, Oregon, who claimed to have a working Cartrivision machine. Neither could get the tapes to play. Meanwhile, Schechter never abandoned the Cartrivision project completely. To know him even for a few minutes, it’s apparent that he’s obsessive about his work and doesn’t take defeat — even if it is self-imposed — comfortably.

Unbeknownst to Mattucci, Schechter bought a Cartrivision machine online from an electronics enthusiast in Ohio named Tim Thompson, who had amassed a huge collection of Cartrivision products, from machines still in their boxes to cassettes, spare parts, and even service manuals.

Despite the “new in the box” promise from Thompson, Schechter said the machine he received was completely nonfunctional. Mechanically, every ounce of it had to be taken apart. Moving parts had to be cleaned and lubricated. Rubber that had disintegrated needed to be replaced. Chips and transistors were bad. Circuit boards had to be rebuilt. Harnesses and wires had to be repaired. Some replacement parts he could find; others he fabricated from scratch. Refurbishing the machine would take four months.

In February, with the 40th anniversary commemoration two months away, Mattucci was running out of time.

“Now I’m thinking that this isn’t happening,” Mattucci said. “I was out of options. So just for the heck of it, I called DuArt back. This time, it was like night and day. Maurice said, ‘Guess what, we’re going to do this,’ and I was blown away.”

Upon receiving the tapes, their condition was worse than Schechter had imagined. “I saw the damage that the two other people did to the tapes,” he said. “They didn’t have the expertise to know how to deal with material that is deteriorated. Wrinkles, fluting on the edges, major deterioration spots … You see that when a tape is basically dead. These tapes were teetering on the edge of not being able to be salvaged at all.”

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Restoring Its Former Glory: Part I

It’s 2:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning in early March and Maurice Schechter is at a loss. A video engineer with nearly four decades of experience, Schechter has tried nearly every trick in his arsenal to salvage a piece of NBA history, specifically, Game 5 of the 1973 NBA Finals. It was the second and last time the Knicks won an NBA championship, and the two videocassettes that contain the game are so badly damaged, they’ve been unwatchable for years. In fact, until executives at MSG Network got their hands on the tapes in December, no one thought they even existed.

Out of desperation, Schechter, who heads up the restoration division of New York postproduction house DuArt Film and Video, performs an untested technique. Like a doctor’s experimental treatment, there’s a chance it could save the one-of-a-kind tapes if it doesn’t destroy them first. Miraculously, it works. A breakthrough, after weeks of frustration.

“I have been working with videotape for 37 years and this was the hardest project I ever touched in my entire life,” said Schechter, three weeks later surrounded by monitors and stacks of tapes in his cluttered video laboratory. “What it took to restore this game was the equivalent of raising the Titanic and making it float again.”

 

Duart's Maurice Schechter explains the process and difficulty of saving the lost tape of Game 5 of the 1973 NBA Finals.

May 10 marks the 40th anniversary of the deciding game of the 1973 NBA Finals, when the Knicks beat the Los Angeles Lakers, 102-93. It was the third time in four years the two rivals met in the championship. Thanks in part to Schechter and his team, on April 14, MSG Network will broadcast the game in its entirety for the first time since ABC-TV aired it live four decades ago.

“This isn’t some random Knicks game,” said Ken Mattucci, the director for content, licensing and acquisitions at MSG Network, “It isn’t Game 2. It’s the deciding game. This is like the Holy Grail of what’s been missing from the Knicks’ archive.”

If you weren’t in attendance at the Los Angeles Forum or watched the game televised live at home, the sight of one of the greatest Knicks teams of all time disappeared soon after the final buzzer. As unbelievable as it seems today, most sporting events back then weren’t saved after they aired. No one foresaw a need for “classic” programming. Besides, the tapes were big, expensive and, most of all, re-recordable. The networks just recorded one event over the next.

A recording of the Knicks’ 1970 championship was saved by ABC and has been shown on MSG Network numerous times. But neither the Garden, the NBA, the Knicks, the Lakers nor ABC had a copy of the 1973 championship. The restored footage gives fans a chance to see the Knicks like they never have before. Willis Reed, Walt “Clyde” Frazier, and Bill Bradley led a team whose ball movement and stifling defense was no match for the Lakers. It was the first championship for Earl Monroe and Jerry Lucas, and the game was Lakers center Wilt Chamberlain’s last in the NBA.

“For the people who have never seen this team play, it brings a better understanding,” Mattucci said. “You knew the Knicks won in ’73, but you never had any video evidence of what went on in the game other than a few highlights. Now fans can see exactly what happened. Now you have the deciding game on film.”

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