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.”