Knicks honor 1973 champions

NEW YORK -- The New York Knicks hope to end their 40-year title drought later this spring.

On Friday, they recognized the last Big Apple team to win the crown.

The Knicks honored the 1972-73 championship team with a ceremony at halftime of the game against Milwaukee. Eleven of the 12 living members of the team were on hand.

Coached by Red Holzman, the '72-73 team featured six future Hall of Fame players and beat the Los Angeles Lakers in five games to win their second title in four years.

The Knicks haven't won a title since and have been back to the Finals just twice.

Walt "Clyde" Frazier said he'd be stunned if someone told him in 1973 that the Knicks would have to endure a 40-year drought after winning that season.

"It would have shocked me. It would have shocked me. (Being in) New York, and what we had, we had a dominant team. So you figured it would continue. It's just astounding," Frazier said.

As former Knick Bill Bradley said, "Once a Knicks fan, always a Knicks fan and for 40 years we've been suffering Knicks fans."

The Knicks were one of the strongest teams in the league in the late 1960s and early 1970s, thanks to elite players such as Frazier.

New York won its first title in 1969-70 and made it to the NBA Finals in 1972. That team lost to the Lakers but bounced back to beat Los Angeles in five games the next spring.

"We were very confident in our capabilities and we knew we were a unique team," Phil Jackson said. "Small, quick good ball handlers and a great passing team ... We bonded in a way in which I've tried to coach the players that I've coached over the years."

Jackson received a loud ovation during the halftime ceremony. Some wondered if Jackson would be booed by the Knicks crowd because he called the Carmelo Anthony-Amar'e Stoudemire pairing "clumsy" last summer and, as coach, won 11 NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls and Lakers to keep the Knicks' drought alive.

Jackson said before the ceremony that he believes the 2012-13 Knicks can "challenge" for the NBA title. The Knicks had won 10 straight entering play Friday and were in second place in the Eastern Conference.

"I think they've come a long way in the last two-and-a-half weeks ... They've started to make a run," said Jackson, who wore his 1995-96 Bulls championship ring to the ceremony. "I think they're going to challenge. There's a hope in this town that maybe they can surprise some people (and) win this year."

Jackson did not wish to discuss his future on Friday. He declined to answer a question about any plans to coach next season or beyond.

"I'm not going to talk about that. It's not the time to talk about it," he said.

Instead, he reminisced with his former teammates about his last title as a player.

Reed, Bradley, Monroe, Frazier, Jerry Lucas and Dave DeBuscherre all were elected to the Hall of Fame as players, and Jackson made it as a coach. Beating Boston in the East finals and then the Lakers in the NBA Finals rematch, the 1972-73 Knicks became the first team to beat two 60-win squads en route to a championship.

They were a close-knit team that has remained tight four decades later.

"For me, the most fun I ever had playing basketball was 1973," said Bradley, a former U.S. Senator. "(In) '70, it was a lot of dedication to the get to the top, but in '73 the group of guys we had just was incredible."

The Knicks have been unable to duplicate the formula. Often stopped by Jackson's Bulls in the 1990s, they didn't get back to the Finals again until 1994, losing in seven games to Houston. They made a surprising run as a No. 8 seed before falling to San Antonio in 1999, but then became one of the league's losingest teams during the next decade.

They believe they have a shot now, nearing their first division title since 1994.

Reed thought the Patrick Ewing-led teams would win a title. He thinks Carmelo Anthony & Co. have a chance to do it.

"They came that close, they were there, I mean they had it done -- I thought they had it done -- and they didn't do it," Reed said. "That's unusual, but I think this has always been a very good franchise. I think the fans have been very loyal, it's been a popular team around the league and I think it will always stay that way.

"And if Carmelo and the guys can put it together and make a run -- like I say, they've got to beat Miami, obviously whoever wins the East is going to have to go through Miami -- then it would be significant."

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.