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|CNNSI.com asked if Knicks fans had any opinions on the subject. And guess what ... they did.
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Sports fans love to reminisce over the days where it all went wrong: the wasted draft pick, the tragic trade or the defecting hero. These may not be, by definition, the worst roster moves ever made, but they were the ones that affected us on a personal level. These are the events that caused -- and still cause -- us to sit on our bar stools and lament the cruel twists of life.
Patrick Ewing was the franchise player of this generation. But not even he could avoid becoming the latest of many Knick "lifers" shipped out of town, including Walt Frazier in 1977; Mark Jackson in 1992; Charles Oakley in 1998; and Dick Van Arsdale in 1968. We also take a hypothetical romp through reality to see if the Knicks could have avoided being stampeded by the Bulls dynasty of the 1990s.
| September 20,
| Knicks trade Patrick Ewing to Seattle
as part of 4-team, 12-player deal
If Patrick Ewing couldn't be a Knick for life, what chance do the rest of us have?
"The Big Fella" averaged 22.8 ppg over his 15 seasons in New York. Otto Greule Jr. /Allsport
There only are a handful of athletes who are so intertwined with their team that it becomes hard to separate one from the other. Of course, in today's world of free agency, salary caps and cold-blooded corporate operations, nothing is sacred. If Ray Bourque can leave the Boston Bruins, if Joe Montana can leave the San Francisco 49ers and if Roger Clemens can kiss a bust of Babe Ruth, then surely Patrick Ewing can put on this odd green and maroon jersey and call himself a Seattle SuperSonic.
Fifteen years. Every team record (except 3-pointers and scoring average.) The face of a franchise. All tossed aside because the Knicks reportedly wouldn't give Ewing two more years in which to try to grab that elusive NBA title. Other reports said it was Ewing who couldn't bear being loved (and used) less than younger stars like Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston, and that he was tired of being blamed for the team's playoff failures.
Scott Layden, just months into his tenure as the Knicks' GM, was placed in the unenviable position of trading a legend. And some would say he got more than could have been expected for a worn-down 38-year-old center, especially when he absolutely had to be traded because a first trade had fallen through after it was made public.
For some, Ewing's departure from New York came years too late. For most, however, it was something that never could have, or more importantly, should have happened.
|| Ewing Finally Takes Himself
Out of the Blame Game
The New York Times -- September 24, 2000
By Mike Wise
Before you gather your belongings and move on in your career, one final thought. It is not your fault the Knicks did not win a title the past 15 years.
You know this already, of course.
Ewing wasn't the only guy to look foolish trying to stop Michael. Jonathan Daniel/Allsport
Yet with so many of your fickle legions now willing to spring for a one-way ticket to Seattle, it is a good time to reflect on what was, what might have been and why we all have a hard time coming to grips with how we felt about you and why.
The fans had their reasons to blame you. You were paid the most money and became the face of the franchise. Occasionally, you were outplayed in a big game.
Never mind that Michael Jordan did most of the outplaying, and that some of his other playoff conquests -- Karl Malone, John Stockton, Charles Barkley and Gary Payton -- still command reverential treatment from their fans.
You know more than anyone: this is New York, a city lacking in perspective in the manner of its professional basketball team. No one could possibly view you as Ken Norton, the warrior heavyweight in the 1970's who came along at the wrong time. Somehow, in some twisted, illogical way, you were the culprit in an annual hoop tragedy.
There are people at fault for not bringing a title back to Madison Square Garden since the Knicks of Willis Reed and Walt Frazier in 1973. None of them, however, had proudly worn No. 33 since 1985, dragging their sore bodies up the floor until they could barely run.
Some wore Italian wool blazers and feuded with your coaches over power and control. Dave Checketts, Al Bianchi and Ernie Grunfeld came very close to putting the right players around you. But the cast you had in your prime was simply not good enough to get the job done.
| October 7,
| Knicks send F Walt Frazier to Cleveland as compensation for signing F Jim Cleamons
The fifth overall pick in 1967, "Clyde" became a starter midway through his second season in New York and eventually helped form the nucleus of the 1970 and 1973 championship teams. With Willis Reed hobbled by a knee injury, Frazier made himself a New York icon with 36 points and 19 assists in the seventh and deciding game of the championship series against the Los Angeles Lakers in 1970.
His flair on the court was complemented by his ultra-cool off-court manner and flashy dress. He was the king of Manhattan in his wide-brimmed hats and fur coats.
Feb. 7, 1972 Walter Iooss/Sports Illustrated
You can imagine how he felt about a move to Cleveland, which is what happened after the Knicks signed Jim Cleamons as a free agent after the 1976-77 season.
"I'll be very nervous when I get to Cleveland," he said. "It's a new situation, a new team, a new city. I'm 'Cool Clyde,' but I'm not that cool."
Frazier spent three unsatisfying, injury-plagued seasons in Cleveland before a foot fracture forced him into retirement. Cleamons averaged 7.4 points and 3.9 assists in three seasons for the Knicks, who haven't won another title since Frazier left.
|| Ultimate Cool
The New York Times -- February 6, 1987
By Ira Berkow
Frazier, at 32, was past his salad days, the team chemistry had changed, and he was distraught - he had built his life here, and now learned of the deal second-hand - and was incommunicado for several days before reporting to the Cavaliers, the lowly Cavs.
Shortly after, he returned to Madison Square Garden, this time in a strange uniform. When he was announced before the game, the cheers nearly brought the roof down.
Clyde, cool Clyde, showed, customarily, little emotion. But he was pumped. He scored 28 points, made 5 steals, as the Cavaliers won in overtime, 117-112. As the buzzer sounded ending the game, Clyde, cool, cool Clyde, thrust a fist in the air and leaped and yelped and raced off the court, with the crowd again cheering madly for this special opponent.
But he wouldn't have many more great basketball days, and he never quite seemed to heal from a stress fracture to a foot, or from his sudden departure from New York, and although he hung on for a few more seasons, he would never be the Frazier we knew.
| September 22,
| Knicks trade G Mark Jackson to the
L.A. Clippers as part of a three-team deal
It only took the Knicks eight years to correct this mistake, re-acquiring Mark Jackson at the trading deadline in 2001.
Jackson was the Rookie of the Year in 1983. Damian Strohmeyer /Allsport
In the interim, Jackson whiled away two years with the Clippers before becoming a major piece in the Indiana Pacers team that would become a major thorn in the Knicks' side. When the Pacers weren't knocking the Knicks out of the playoffs, they were taking so much out of them in the process that New York had nothing left in the next round.
The Knicks looked like the team poised to give the then two-time champion Bulls the most trouble, coming off a brutal seven-game '92 conference semifinal series. But after that success, which included 52 victories in '91-92, Pat Riley felt he needed more versatility and overhauled three-fifths of the roster. Acquiring Charles Smith, Bo Kimble and Doc Rivers, along with several other acquisitions, would allow the Knicks to go big or small and give opponents fits trying to match up.
The only problem is that it left erratic Greg Anthony, rookie Hubert Davis and 31-year-old Doc Rivers running the offense. And somehow, Michael, Scottie and The Zen Master were able to play through the Knicks' "different looks."
|| Jackson Deal Could Be a New Curse
The New York Times -- October 4, 1992
By George Vecsey
Everybody hates a second-guesser, that whiny type who claims years later, "Nyah, nyah, I knew it wouldn't work." The only time hindsight is acceptable is when you can prove you were on the case early. Before I explain why I have misgivings about the Knicks trading Jackson, and bad vibrations about rumors that the Rangers might trade John Vanbiesbrouck, I want to show my credentials.
Dec. 6, 1990 The Mets did not sign Darryl Strawberry but did sign Vince Coleman. "For a more resourceful leadoff hitter, the Mets could have gone to Brett Butler. . . . The Mets are now just another team trying to find an identity, but maybe, with Vince Coleman, still not getting it quite right."
June 20, 1989 The Mets had traded Len Dykstra and Roger McDowell for Juan Samuel. "The Lenny fan says it stinks from a baseball sense as well as from a human sense. The Mets are turning over their leadoff spot to an erratic fielder who led the league in strikeouts for four straight seasons. . . . "
These two items are cited because they fall into a pattern. New York teams should be cautious about trading players who actually like this crazy town. There aren't many like Reggie Jackson, who was dumped by the Man from Tampa after 1981, and they should be treated as a civic asset.
Prodigal Point Guard Comes Home
The New York Times -- February 23, 2001
By George Vecsey
They never should have traded him in the first place.
He had the chutzpah to stare down his fellow New Yorkers and tell them they were front-runners.
He also had me-and-you rapport with the Big Fella. He didn't mind pointing to the paint and telling Patrick to get himself in there.
But they did trade him, and they did not win any championships, and now the Knicks are bringing back Mark Jackson -- importing a bit of New York moxie to set up their exorbitant surplus of shooting guards.
The fans will roar his name the first time he steps on the floor of the Garden. It is a well-known fact that not a single person currently holding a season ticket to the Garden ever booed Mark Jackson a decade ago.
Come to think of it, maybe the Knicks should bring back Patrick before Tuesday night's game against Seattle.
| June 25,
| Knicks trade F Charles Oakley
to Toronto for F Marcus Camby
Charles Oakley loved being a New York Knick. His teammates loved having him there playing the role of enforcer. Knicks fans respected him above almost anybody else on the team.
Maybe that's why Garden president Dave Checketts called this "the toughest trade I've ever made."
Oakley always stood tall when the Knicks needed him most. Andy Lyons /Allsport
In cold, hard truth, the Knicks went for a younger, cheaper and more skilled player. Sounds great, but it took a long time for fans to warm up to Camby. And they still miss Oak. You'd never confuse Oakley's stats with Ewing's (or even Camby's, once he hits his stride), but you would never ever confuse Camby's dedication with Oakley's, either.
|| Trade Takes Heart Out of the Garden
The New York Times -- June 26, 1998
By Mike Wise
In February 1997, several of the writers covering the Knicks half-kidded Oakley about showing them around Cleveland during the All-Star Game. Oakley nodded and told everyone to be in front of a hotel at a certain time. He showed up that Friday night in a wide-brim fedora and a pin-striped suit, opened the door to a limousine he owned and ushered everyone in. First stop was Club Togo in Oakley's old neighborhood, where high school friends told of a young, spry, Gheri-curled Oak dunking and blowing kisses to the crowd.
Next stop was his mother Corine's house for a spread of sweet potato pie, ham hocks and collard greens -- and framed pictures of a smiling kid who made a mother very proud. Of his beautiful prom date, he shrugged and said, "Someone had to take her."
The visit was not written about and Oakley never once brought it up as leverage for less-critical stories about him. He simply wanted to show the people who wrote about him who he was -- the way he showed Knick fans every night, collecting rebounds, shooting his medium-range jump shot, beating quicker players down the floor.
"He gave his heart to New York," [his sister] Saralene said. "This is almost the end of his career. It's crazy. It's not right. He was supposed to finish his career there."
There is no silver lining, no cake or retirement gift. Most likely, Charles Oakley will finish his career with the worst team in the Eastern Conference. The Employee of the Decade was just let go.
The Knicks are about business and looking toward the future. Oakley is about sentiment and living for today. They really don't deserve him anymore.
| G/F Dick Van Arsdale selected by Phoenix
in the Expansion Draft
A lot of people pegged Dick Van Arsdale as a life-long Knick. Instead, he became a life-long member of the Phoenix Suns, from being the Suns' first selection in the 1968 expansion draft to the vice president of player personnel title he still holds.
Some argue he is the best player ever selected in an expansion draft, which is usually reserved for the dregs of the NBA. After a stellar career at Indiana, Van Arsdale made the all-rookie team in 1966. He became a starter and averaged 12.8 points in three seasons with the Knicks. For his efforts, the Knicks opted to protect Phil Jackson's defensive skills instead of Van Arsdale's offense.
Jackson gave the offensively-loaded Knicks needed at the time, but Van Arsdale went on to play nine seasons for the Suns. He averaged 21 points over his first three seasons there, earning All-Star bids every time, and he helped get the Suns to the NBA Finals in his eighth season.
| November 12,
| Knicks acquire G Gerald Henderson from Seattle for a trade of '87 1st-round picks and a 2nd-round pick in '90
| July 10,
| Chicago Bulls name Phil Jackson head coach
Remember that pesky little Bulls Dynasty that pretty much assured Patrick Ewing would never win a championship? Yeah, well, the Knicks helped it happen.
First, Knicks GM Scotty Stirling (he's the former Warriors GM who traded Robert Parish and the rights to a No. 1 draft pick, which turned out to be Kevin McHale, to Boston for Joe Barry Carroll) traded first-round picks with Seattle in order to acquire Gerald Henderson.
Hey, Scottie, wouldn't it have been cool if the Knicks had drafted you and hired me? Yeah, Phil, that would have been something. Jonathan Daniel /Allsport
Henderson was waived one year and two days later. The Sonics used the Knicks' No. 5 pick to select Scottie Pippen, who was then traded to Chicago for Olden Polynice (but that's a whole other story). The Knicks used Seattle's No. 18 pick on Mark Jackson.
Solid enough, you say, Jackson was Rookie of the Year and a longtime Knicks favorite. But, let's point out that the Knicks also had the No. 25 pick coming up, and chances are that a short, pudgy, slow point guard from St. John's still would have been available to them. Worth considering, is all we're saying. Not only do the Knicks get Pippen and Jackson, but the Bulls don't get Pippen.
Flash forward two years, summer of 1989. The Bulls give former Knicks hero Phil Jackson his first NBA job. Jackson had retired nine years previously after a 13-year career, the bulk of which was spent with the Knicks. He had won an NBA title in New York, for crying out loud. And all he had done over the past five years was coach winner after winner at Albany of the CBA. Albany is three hours north of Manhattan. You would think the Knicks would have been at least a little curious about Jackson's potential.
Instead, the corporate-minded Knicks hire, fire, and otherwise go through five cookie-cutter coaches in the time that Jackson was out of the league -- Hubie Brown, Bob Hill, Rick Pitino, Stu Jackson and John MacLeod.
Jackson ends up in Chicago, where he proceeds to torment, dominate and otherwise beat the living vinegar out of his former team for most of the next decade.
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