“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.
Bill Bradley, Henry Bibby and Jerry Lucas explain why the unselfish nature of the 1973 Knicks made them a championship-caliber team.
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.”