OK, so the ping pong balls weren’t kind. Instead of getting the 7th pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, the Knicks got the 8th pick.
Guess who the Knicks took with the 8th pick in the 1964 draft?
Willis Reed. How’d that work out?
The league has changed, the draft has changed, the business of the NBA has changed. But this hasn’t changed:
A team’s fortunes can dramatically change on draft night. It has for the Knicks.
No one, certainly no card-carrying Knicks fan, will ever forget the first draft lottery held. It took place on the afternoon of Sunday May 12, 1985 during halftime of a Boston Celtics-Philadelphia 76ers playoff game.
Yes, the 1985 draft was held at halftime of an afternoon playoff game. Like we said, the NBA has changed.
That afternoon, in the Starlight Roof located on the 18th floor of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, representatives of the seven NBA teams that hadn’t made the playoffs anxiously sat behind place-cards bearing their team’s name.
Jack Joyce, the NBA’s head of security, spun a large plastic drum holding seven envelopes five times. David Stern, in his first year as NBA commissioner, began to pull out envelopes and, slowly, read off the team’s draft spot in reverse order.
Each team had an equal 14.3 percent chance of getting the top pick.
The Knicks and the Pacers were the last two envelopes remaining.
The prize was the right to draft Georgetown star Patrick Ewing.
When Stern revealed that the sixth envelope belonged to the Indiana Pacers, Knicks Director of Basketball Operations, Dave DeBusschere, who later admitted to having a lucky horseshoe in his pocket, exhaled, stood up, and pumped his fist in victory.
The Patrick Ewing era was born.
Will a new era be born on the night of June 22, 2017?
The Knicks could use a quality point guard and this draft is deep at that position. N.C. State’s Dennis Smith Jr., Kentucky’s Malik Monk and Frank Ntilikina of France all could be on the board when Phil Jackson & Co. pick.
The question is: Will the player the Knicks pick go down as one of the greatest draft choices in franchise history? Yes, we’re thinking big, and with good reason.
One of the greatest draft choices in Knicks history was made in 1987. Mark Jackson was the 18th player taken. He won 1988 Rookie of the Year honors and was an All-Star in 1989 when Jackson spearheaded the Knicks’ vaunted ‘Bomb Squad’ offense.
So, who was the greatest Knicks draft choice of all time? Here’s my take:
1. Walt ‘Clyde’ Frazier, No. 5, 1967
First of all, Clyde will be the first to tell you he was the best Knicks player of all time, no less the best pick.
His record makes that brash statement hard to argue.
Taken after No. 1 pick Jimmy Walker, No. 3 Clem Haskins and No. 4 Sonny Dover (Earl Monroe was the second pick), Frazier helped lead the Knicks to their two NBA titles.
Willis Reed is known for his gritty effort in Game 7 of the 1970 Finals when he took the court with a severe hip injury. But it was Frazier who turned in what arguably is the greatest Game 7 performance ever.
Frazier scored 36 points on 12-of-17 shooting from the field, 12-of-12 from the line, and dished out 19 assists.
Clyde was a seven-time All-Star and the MVP of the 1975 NBA All-Star game. Throw in the wardrobe, the transition to the broadcast booth where Clyde has a style unmatched, and you have the best draft choice in Knicks history.
2. Patrick Ewing, No. 1, 1985
Ewing did everything an NBA player can do except win a title, which hardly was his fault. What he did do is turn the Knicks record book into the Patrick Ewing Diaries. He holds franchise records for points (23,665), rebounds (8,964), blocks (2,758) and steals (1,081).
Ewing was an 11-time All-Star, the 1986 Rookie of the Year and a member of the 1992 U.S. Olympic Dream Team. Fans grew to know that behind the fierce competitive scowl was a kind-hearted warrior that left it all on the court every night.
3. Willis Reed, No. 8, 1964
It is one of the iconic moments, not just in Finals history, not just in New York sports, but all of sports – Reed limping from the tunnel at the old Garden to take the court for Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals.
Even the Lakers stopped their warmups and stared in awe.
At 6-foot-9, Reed was the undersized center almost every night in an NBA that was dominated by big men. He never backed down.
Reed was the MVP in the Knicks’ two NBA titles. He was a seven-time All-Star and the MVP of the 1970 All-Star game. He averaged a double-double for his Knicks career – 18.7 points and 12.9 rebounds – and he did it against the likes of Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
4. Bill Bradley, 1st Round Territorial Pick, 1965
Just as location is paramount in real estate, so it was in 1965, the last season the NBA had territorial draft rights.
New York is one mile closer to Princeton, where Bradley won Player of the Year honors in 1965 than Philadelphia, thus giving the Knicks the right to draft Bradley.
It took the Knicks and Bradley time to find each other. Initially, he played shooting guard. When moved to forward, the subtle brilliance and beauty of his game emerged. He averaged 12.4 points, 3.4 assists and 3.2 rebounds for his Knicks career.
Two of Bradley’s best seasons came in 1969-70 (14.5 points, 4 assists, 3.6 rebounds) and 1972-73 (16.1 points, 4.5 assists, 3.6 rebounds) when the Knicks won it all. Bradley garnered his only All-Star appearance in that second championship campaign.
5. (Tie) Mark Jackson, No. 18, 1987 and Dick McGuire, No.7, 1949
Why the tie? McGuire had more All-Star seasons and his ball-handling was compared to the footwork of great tap dancers. The former La Salle Academy star was drafted much higher than Jackson, which is why the former Bishop Loughlin star demands consideration.
Jackson was drafted after David Robinson, Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant and Reggie Miller – to name a few – but the point guard from Brooklyn won Rookie of the Year honors after averaging 13.6 points, 10.6 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.5 steals.
Jackson is second all-time in Knicks history with 4005 assists. McGuire is third at 2,950. Jackson also is sixth all-time in steals with 720. This Bronx guard was a seven-time All-Star and led the league in assists in 1950.
If you don’t like ties, that’s fine. We’ll win with either of these lead guards. Maybe the next great Knicks point guard will be selected soon enough.