New York Knicks greats recount 1970 championship, 50 years later

50 years ago today, the New York Knicks were champions of basketball.


May 8, 1970 should be a holiday in New York City.

Fifty years ago today the New York Knicks, led by Willis Reed‘s gimp leg, Walt “Clyde” Frazier’s amazing all-around play, and a usual team effort from the likes of Dick Barnett and Dave DeBusschere, won their first championship in franchise history in a Game 7 triumph over the Los Angeles Lakers.

One of the most iconic moments in sports history, Knicks center Willis Reed, who had a torn thigh muscle and wasn’t expected to play, limped out of the Madison Square Garden tunnel, stunning fans and players on the court, providing the inspiration the Knicks needed to clinch the title.

Reed hit the first two shots that he took.

“Clyde wanted to see if I could make it,” Reed said according to excerpts from an upcoming appearance on MSG Networks celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the 1970 win. “I was surprised that he passed me that first shot. But that’s the kind of team we had, open man. You know Red said I don’t care who shoots it, as long as you’re the open man. He said, now if you can’t make it, we’re going to have to get someone else out there. But you’re going to be the open man.”

The 1969-70 Knicks were the best team in the NBA all season, winning 60 games to clinch the Eastern Division by four games. Many people forget they played a competitive first round series against their rival at the time, Baltimore, which took seven games for them to advance to their Eastern Division Finals match-up with Milwaukee, before they met the Lakers in the Finals.

The Knicks championship aspirations appeared to be in trouble when Willis Reed injured himself in the second quarter of Game 5 against the Lakers. The Knicks still won that game, but were blown out in Game 6 in Los Angeles, leading to the magical Game 7 moment with Reed returning to the court.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen when I got on the floor,” Reed recalled. “I was hoping that once they gave me the cortisone shot that I would be great. And when I felt the pain in my leg, that wasn’t quite the case. But all of the guys came in and said, ‘We’re going to win this one tonight, the championship is going to be ours’.”

While The Captain got the team going with his heroic appearance, it was Clyde Frazier who ultimately took over the contest. He had a box score line for the ages with 36 points, 19 assists, and 7 rebounds on 12-17 shooting.

“Clyde had a great game, one of those games that you would give him MVP for,” Reed said. “Those are the kind of games that you just don’t have. He had it at a moment when we needed it.”

Clyde talked about being surprised to see Reed play on that night, and how Red Holzman reminded him to get everyone involved.

“People thought it was premeditated that we knew Willis would play or come out,” Frazier said. “When we left the locker room, we had no idea. So usually in the playoffs when we leave the locker room, Coach would pull me over, if we were playing the Bullets, he’d say just forget about offense and focus on defense on Earl. So when we left the locker room this time he told me, ‘Hey Clyde, hit the open man. Move the ball, make sure everyone gets involved.’ That was my thought going into the game, just to get the ball to the open man.”

The Knicks 113-99 Game 7 performance made them kings of the NBA. You can learn more about that special night on MSG Networks during a special roundtable with Bill Bradley, Walt Frazier, and Willis Reed, hosted by Mike Breen at 5:00 PM EST and 7:30 PM EST on Friday, May 8. MSG will also re-air Game 7 at 5:30 PM and 8:00 PM EST on Friday.

What else was going on in New York City and the world when the Knicks won their first championship?

On the night the Knicks won their first championship, the Mets hosted the San Francisco Giants at Shea. Willie Mays hit home runs 605 and 606 in a 7-1 drubbing of the Mets. From the New York Daily news, “Shea was overrun by transistor radios, as large crowd of 43,109 kept track of Knicks lopsided drive to NBA championship. Even M. Donald Grant, Met President, could be found listening.”

The top song in May of 1970 was American Woman by The Guess Who.

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Richard Nixon shared the front page of the Daily News with the Knicks accomplishment the following morning. He was trying to appeal to anti-war protesters who were descending upon the capitol.

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