The basketball world turns its attention to Springfield this Friday as Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Yao Ming and others are inducted into the Naismaith Hall of Fame. There are no Knicks on the list, so instead I’d like to take a moment to discuss another kind of honor, one that the franchise itself hands out to its legends.
The Knicks have retired seven numbers for eight players (Dick McGuire and Earl Monroe share No. 15). It’s an exclusive club, particularly when you consider the fact that the Knicks have been around for 70 years. But it might be a little too exclusive. There’s one more player who I believe deserves to join those orange-and-blue titans in the MSG rafters.
His name is Charles Oakley. The Oak Tree’s No. 34 should hang right next to Patrick Ewing’s No. 33, a fitting tribute to the frontline of some of the best squads in franchise history.
Since his retirement Oakley has grown mythic in stature, though not so much for his play as for his general badassery. He’s a mix of Paul Bunyan and John Shaft, and tales of his badass exploits still echo across basketball Twitter:
Did I ever tell you guys the story about Oak taking a player’s newborn out of his hands in front of his girl, in order to smack said player?— Vincent Goodwill (@vgoodwill) May 5, 2016
The legend of Oak is a wonderful thing, but it also obscures his on-court exploits. Quite simply, Oakley is one of the greatest players ever to don a Knicks uniform. The numbers he put up during his tenure in New York are staggering. He averaged a double-double (10.4 points, 10.0 rebounds) over a 10-year period, and he was an iron man who played all 82 games four times despite playing a brutal, all-out style of ball.
Here is where Oakley ranks in franchise history:
- Win Shares: 5th
- Games Played: 6th
- Minutes Played: 3rd
- Total Rebounds: 3rd
- Offensive Rebounds: 1st
- Steals: 2nd (???)
- Box Plus/Minus: 7th
- Value Over Replacement Player: 2nd
And these numbers don’t even really begin to describe how beloved the man is by those who watched him play. Ewing was the greatest player on those ‘90s Knicks squads, but Oakley symbolized the rugged, nasty style of ball that the New York faithful came to love.
Check out this clip of Game 4 of the 1997 Conference Semis — Oakley stepping over dudes, getting knocked down, knocking dudes down, diving on the floor, creating turnovers. Listen to the outpouring of love from the MSG crowd:
MSG will barely even acknowledge Charles Oakley these days, let alone retire his number, for reasons that are stupid and petty. The man did more for the Knicks than all but a handful of players over the past seven decades, and it’s about time he was treated as such.