Because Richie Guerin’s career with the New York Knicks wrapped up before the team finally won a championship, the 6’4” shooting guard does not get the praise he deserves, but 59 years ago this week Guerin etched his name into the history books with a 57-point showing that at the time set the Knicks and MSG record for most points in a single game.
The historic performance came on December 11, 1959, amidst a ridiculous overall output of scoring from both the Knicks and the Syracuse Nationals. The Knicks were victorious, 152-121, led by Guerin’s 57 points on 18-37 shooting and 21-26 from the free throw line. His 18 made field goals tied the MSG and Knicks records, and his 21 free throws bested the previous Garden and Knicks marks. Before you get on Guerin for being all about that scoring glory, you should know that he also added 12 rebounds and 8 assists. Guerin was helped in the game by the late, great Willie Naulls, who put up 33 points and 22 rebounds against the Hawks. Good golly, they were quite the duo.
The game’s overall point total of 273 broke the the previous NBA record of 265, which was set during a 137-128 St. Louis Hawks victory over the Knicks on, ironically, December 11, 1956. What’s crazy is that both of those games took place well before the adoption of the three-point line, which wasn’t implemented until 1979.
Guerin’s 57 points would stand as the Knicks record until 1984, when Bernard King dropped 60 points against the New Jersey Nets on Christmas Day. The Knicks actually lost that game, though, 120-114. King’s record lasted until January 24, 2014, when Carmelo Anthony posted 62 points en route to a 125-96 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats. Today, Melo still holds the Knicks record for most points at MSG, although Wilt Chamberlain holds the overall record for most points at the Mecca, having poured in 73 for the San Francisco Warriors in a November 1962 win over the Knicks.
Enough about the guys who would go on to break Guerin’s record, as this is not their week. The year Guerin posted 57 was his fourth season with the Knicks. In the game, Guerin came out gunning, putting up 20 in the first quarter and 12 in the second quarter to total 32 points at halftime, according to the game recap from the Elmira Star Gazette newspaper.
“It was a matter of being in the right spot at the right time,” he said of his first half barrage, according to the newspaper. After halftime, Guerin said he “became more confident and was looking for his shot,” and while he had only 7 points in the third quarter, he finished strong with 18 in the fourth to tally 57 for the game.
The victory broke more than a scoring record. It also broke a curse of sorts, as the Knicks had lost their previous eight matchups against the Nationals, as well as Carl Braun’s record of 47 points, which happened in 1946 and at the time set both the Knicks and NBA record for points in a game.
Braun, who only about a week after Guerin’s 57-point barrage was actually hired to be a player-coach for the Knicks, said that the record breaking performance “couldn’t happen to a better guy,” according to the Elmira Star Gazette.
“I taught him all I could, but I didn’t want to teach him that much,” he added in jest.
Guerin, who today is 86-years-old, was a picture-perfect Knick, having been born and raised in the Bronx. In just over seven season with the team, he averaged roughly 20 points a game and more than 6 rebounds and 5 assists. He scored 50 for the Knicks three total times, and in the 1961-62 season averaged nearly 30 points per contest while adding 6.4 rebounds and 6.9 assists. The team, however only made the playoffs once with Guerin on the roster, losing in the Eastern Division Semifinals in 1959.
Prior to his time in the NBA, Guerin served in the Marine Corps Reserve from 1947 to 1954. He was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.
Alan Hahn wrote in his book 100 Things Knicks Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die that Guerin is among the past Knicks greats who have been forgotten by time, partly due to the fact that he comes from a losing era in team history that took place only a decade before the Knicks broke through and won two championships in the early 1970s.
Today, however, Guerin is not forgotten. He is saluted for his record-breaking performance with the Knicks that took place nearly six decades ago.