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This week in Knicks history: Willis, Clyde bring home franchise’s first ever championship

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It was the best of times.

These Knicks were champions. Who’s next?
DAN FARRELL / NY DAILY NEWS / GETTY IMAGES

The Knicks may not be currently competing for the championship, but 49 years ago this week the ‘Bockers became champions for the first time in franchise history by defeating the Los Angeles Lakers 113-99 in game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals.

The victory came at Madison Square Garden, meaning when the Knicks finally got to celebrate a title they were able to do in front of the hometown fans. How nice! Heading into the game, however, it wasn’t so obvious that everything was going to wind up being wrapped up so nicely.

A little after 7 p.m. on May 8, 1970, Knicks captain (and that year’s league MVP) Willis Reed was in the training room, receiving several painkilling injections in his right leg as a result of a torn muscle he suffered in game 5 just four days earlier. No one — not the fans, coaches or players — knew whether Reed would be able to play through the pain. But just before tip-off, the icon performed his most iconic moment, as Reed limped out of the tunnel and onto the court to take the tip against Wilt Chamberlain.

“I wanted to play,” Reed later said , according to NBA.com. “That was for the championship, the one great moment you play for all your life. I didn’t want to have to look at myself in the mirror 20 years later and say I wished I had tried to play.”

Reed didn’t take long to make his mark, scoring the first two baskets of the game for the Knicks while somehow adequately defending Chamberlain on the other end. Reed played 27 minutes that night, ending with 4 points 2-5 shooting to go along with an immeasurable impact.

However, heartwarming tales don’t win championships alone. Luckily for the Knicks, 25-year-old Walt Clyde Frazier understood this. Frazier swooped, duped and hooped his way to 36 points, 19 assists and 7 rebounds. Dick Barnett had 21 points, Dave DeBusschere tallied 18 and Bill Bradley added 17.

Frazier, now 74, calls today’s Knicks games for MSG, and teaches millions of Knicks fans a variety of vocabulary words. Barnett, now 82, went on to teach Sports Management at St. John’s University until his retirement in 2007. DeBusschere, who unfortunately died in 2003, was an assistant coach and the director of basketball operations for the Knicks in the 1980s. He is the man responsible for drafting Patrick Ewing, who will represent the Knicks next week on the dais as they hope to land the number one pick in the upcoming draft. Finally, Bradley, now 75, became a three-term United States senator.

Jerry West led the Lakers that night with 28 points, followed by Chamberlain’s 21 points and 24 rebounds. Elgin Baylor added 19 points in the losing effort.

Five players from that Knicks squad have their numbers hanging in the MSG rafters to this day: Frazier, Barnett, Reed, DeBusschere and Bradley. Red Holzman, the coach of that magical squad, also has a banner, with the number 613 on it (the amount of regular season victories he had as the Knicks coach).

Today’s Knicks coach, David Fizdale, was about four years old when Reed limped into the floor for game 7. Ewing, the future Knicks superstar who today also has a banner hanging in the rafters, was eight. Mitchell Robinson wouldn’t be born for another 28 years.

A couple of years later, the Knicks would win a second championship, and everyone probably thought the team was on its way to becoming one of the most successful franchises in the NBA. Today, nearly five decades later, the Knicks are still searching for their next title. Perhaps it’ll come next season, when the team employs Zion Williamson, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. That seems just as likely as Reed being able to play in game 7 with a torn muscle in his leg.