The Retired Jersey Project keeps on rolling! (Read this if you need to catch up on the rules.)
The New York Knickerbockers have sadly been a mediocre (and often outright dreadful) franchise since James Dolan assumed ownership at the turn of the century. Unfortunately, the franchise’s shoddy practice of jersey retirements predates Dolan, although he’s done nothing to rectify the situation. Wouldn’t hold my breath on that either.
A look at the jerseys New York has retired is basically a paean to the early 1970s as if the franchise born in 1946 has no history beyond those seasons.
#10 Walt Frazier
#12 Dick Barnett
#15 Earl Monroe
#19 Willis Reed
#22 Dave DeBusschere
#24 Bill Bradley
I’m someone who loves the 1970s, but this state of affairs is ridiculous. Only two other Knicks join these ranks—#15 Dick McGuire and #33 Patrick Ewing. Both of those players were part of some great Knicks teams that made the NBA Finals and clearly didn’t do it on their own, so you can believe there’ll be others from their eras that should join the club.
Anyways, here are six Knicks I think should be up in the MSG rafters. As usual all stats unless otherwise noted pertain to time as Knicks.
Consider a contribution to support the hoops history cause.
Jerseys to Retire
#4 Carl Braun (1947-1950; 1952-1961)
Hall of Fame—All-BAA 2nd Team—All-NBA 2nd Team—5x All-Star—NBA Finalist
A nearly-unrivaled longevity garnered some lofty heights in franchise ranks for Mr. Braun. In fact, he’d be even higher, if not for two seasons (1950-51 and 1951-52) lost to the U.S. Army.
#4 Games Played — easily would be #2 if he hadn’t lost those seasons to the Army.
#9 Minutes Played—easily would be #3 on the list if minutes played were recorded during his first three seasons in addition to the two lost military years.
Braun came out the gate as a hot-shot 20-year-old rookie in the 1947-48 BAA season. In just his 10th career game, he scored 47 points. The mark was a franchise and league record for a single game as it surpassed Philadelphia Warriors ace Joe Fulks’s 41 points a year before. (Don’t worry, Fulks would get the record back.)
Braun continued with the Knicks for well over a decade only leaving in 1961 in pursuit of an NBA title during his final season. He got it by hitching up with the Boston Celtics. However, this was only after a failed Finals appearance with New York in 1953. Braun led the Knicks in scoring that as well in the 1953 postseason overall, but they fell to the Lakers in five games.
Before setting off for Boston, the native New Yorker excelled as a 6’5” guard able to play point man or off the ball. Rather unusual for someone that tall in the era to purely play guard to say nothing of being able to switch roles. His ability paved the way for such future titans as Oscar Robertson and Richie Guerin (more on him below).
#8 Nathaniel “Sweetwater” Clifton (1950-1957)
Hall of Fame—All-Star—3x NBA Finalist
A legendary barnstormer who had played with the Harlem Globetrotters as well as in other basketball leagues in the 1940s (in addition to military service in World War II), Clifton was part of the black quartet that integrated the NBA’s playing ranks during the 1950-51 season.
The 6-foot-6 center didn’t join the NBA until age 28, yet still produced seven pretty good seasons for New York despite not being as featured on offense as much as he believed he should have been. Clifton chalked it up to the latent racism in America, not any intentional malice of coach or teammates. Perhaps a white player of similar skill would have gotten a featured shot, but not a black player.
Fortunately, Clifton was also a gifted defender, rebounder, and passer. And given that the Knicks truly did have a lot of offensive options—himself, Braun, McGuire, Harry Gallatin, Connie Simmons, Max Zaslofsky—Clifton was a stalwart of the club and beloved by teammates. At a time when assists per game were relatively low, Clifton put up a couple of seasons of nearly three-and-a-half dimes per game helping the Knickerbocker cause in three NBA Finals.
Clifton finally garnered an All-Star appearance in 1957, his final in New York, at age 34. After a season with the Detroit Pistons the following year, Clifton returned to barnstorming hoops until age 40.
#9 Richie Guerin (1956-1963)
Hall of Fame—3x All-NBA 2nd Team—6x All-Star
Another great Knick who lost time due to military service. Unlike his longtime backcourt mate Braun, Richie Guerin was hitched with the Marines not the Army. After his two-season military delay, Guerin kicked off his NBA career at age 24 in 1956. By the time he was traded to St. Louis in 1963, the 6’4” guard had set quite a few franchise records concerning points and assists:
2303 points in the 1961-62 season (now second place)
29.5 PPG in 1961-62 (now second place)
57 points in a game on December 11, 1959 (now third place)
21 assists in a game on December 12, 1958 (now second place)
Plus his 539 assists in the 1961-62 season were just three behind Dick McGuire’s 542 from 1954-55 for the franchise record at the time.
Hailing from the Bronx this fiery guard, also able to play on and off the ball like Brooklyn-born Braun, was a menace for opponents. Unfortunately, by the time he showed up in the late 1950s, the Knicks were on a downward swing. So his heroics were largely for naught since the Knicks kept drafting inept center after inept center and were never able to pair Guerin and forwards Willie Naulls and Kenny Sears with a top-notch low-post presence.
As you can see from his All-NBA and All-Star selections, contemporaries knew Guerin was not one to mess with on the court and was sensational.
#11 Harry Gallatin (1948-1957)
Hall of Fame—All-NBA 1st Team—All-NBA 2nd Team—7x All-Star—3x NBA Finalist
Like Braun, Gallatin got an early start on his pro career. At 21 years of age, he debuted with the Knicks in 1948. Known for his powerhouse rebounding, “Harry the Horse” was a banger and perennial All-Star for the Knicks in the 1950s. And he never had a military stint to interrupt or delay his Knicks career. Finally!
In 1954 he led the league with 15.3 rebounds per game and never failed to average at least 10 per contest. Well, we have to assume that. Rebounds weren’t tracked until the 1950-51 season, so Gallatin’s first two years are unknown in terms of boards snared. But for all the seasons we do have records, Harry was dominating the glass.
Unfortunately, like his frontcourt mate Clifton, Gallatin was three times defeated in the NBA Finals. The Royals beat the Knicks in seven games in 1951—after New York came back from a 3-0 series deficit. Then in 1952 and ‘53, the Lakers did the honors.
As great as he and Clifton were, they were both just 6’6” and the 6’10” George Mikan along with the 6’7” Vern Mikkelsen gave Minneapolis an edge they couldn’t best. No shame in that, though. No other team ever really did so either.
#30 Bernard King (1982-1987)
Hall of Fame—2x All-NBA 1st Team—2x All-Star
Honestly, the only persistent bright spot in the 1980s for the Knicks and even then King’s impact really felt for just three seasons. But the dude put in some work those three prime years.
Hell, King finished second in MVP voting behind Larry Bird in 1984. And his playoff run that year is one of the greatest in basketball history. Four consecutive 40-point games versus the Pistons in the first round. In the semi-finals versus Boston he continued carrying the club. They managed to take the eventual NBA champions to a seventh game. Not trying to be mean, but Bill Cartwright was the only other player on the club you could semi-trust and they somehow got Bird, McHale, Parish, Dennis Johnson and the gang to seven games.
Yeah, the somehow was Bernard King with his Mack truck fast break dunks and unstoppable low-post turn around jumpers.
By the way, he’s the man who took Richie Guerin’s single-season PPG crown. 32.9 PPG in the 1985 season before he blew out his knee. After two years of rehab, he appeared in six more games with the Knicks late in the 1987 season where he promptly averaged 23 PPG on 50% shooting. New York still didn’t bother to keep him.
A crappy ending to his time as a Knick.
#34 Charles Oakley (1988-1998)
All-Defensive 1st Team—All-Defensive 2nd Team—All-Star
He’s the worst basketball player on this list (remember this is relative, so being the worst here is still pretty damn good!).
But it’s motherf*cking Charles Oakley!
Oak gave the Knicks a decade of bad-ass defense, stone-cold rebounding, an ironclad backbone, and superb haircuts. Honestly go check it out. Whether high-top fade, SUPER high-top fade, mini-fro, clean-shaven, bearded, or buzzcut, Oakley’s hair was always on-point.
Anyways, whenever Dolan is up outta there, first order of bidness is to raise Oakley’s number 34 to the rafters.
Okay, well, maybe Richie Guerin first. That dude is almost 90 years old. Honor him before he croaks. Then get to Oak and the rest.