If you were to ever ask me which New York Knick immediately comes to mind when I think of a Knicks #9 jersey, my answer since 1994 would have consistently been Tony Campbell. It’s not rooted in specific memories of watching Campbell play, or that he was a favorite player of mine. The real reason is simply that, upon opening some packs of basketball cards as a kid, I pulled a 93-94 Upper Deck card of Campbell taking a jump shot prominently displaying an orange #9 on a road blue Knicks jersey. Having watched #33, #3, #34, and #14 on an almost nightly basis, I had become accustomed to seeing these numbers year in and year out. But this card I was holding back then was the first time I had ever seen a #9 Knicks jersey and the image has remained glued in my mind ever since. To this day, Campbell still comes to my mind as the first Knick I think of even after several more prominent names like RJ Barret and Richie Guerin have worn it. Maybe it’s a ‘90s thing for me.
To date, a total of eighteen players have worn the #9 for the Knickerbockers. Following Barrett’s recent trade to Toronto, the number is once again vacant awaiting its next owner. Among the 18 players to wear the number, six wore the number for one season or less, including some recognizable names such as Jonathan Bender, Chris Wilcox, and Matt Barnes. While #9 serves as some teams’ most iconic number including the USA Dream Team’s, such is not the case for the Knicks. Maybe owner #19 will one day make #9 legendary.
Richie Guerin: Originally drafted by the Knicks in 1954, Richie Guerin stands out as arguably the most accomplished player to have worn the #9 jersey for the Knicks. Having worn it from 1956-1963, Guerin became a 6x All-Star and a member of the All-NBA second team three times. More honorable than any on-court accomplishment were the 2 years of service Guerin was required to finish with the Marines prior to being allowed to join the Knicks in 1956.
Teamed up with WWIB #4 winner Carl Braun, Guerin had become one of the few mainstays for the Knicks during a period in which the roster was constantly evolving. He made his first All-Star appearance in just his second season, a feat he would accomplish for the next five consecutive seasons. In 1958, Guerin not only led the team in assists but also set a new Knicks single-game record with 21 assists in a single game. This record stood until 2008 when Chris Duhon established the new franchise record for most assists in a single game with 22. To date, Guerin remains second as the Knicks’ all-time single-game assists leader.
Guerin wasn’t only a phenomenal passer, he was also a remarkable shooter, once scoring 57 points in a single game. This high-scoring affair in 1958 stood as another Knicks record until Bernard King’s 60-point outburst in 1984. Guerin remains fourth on the Knicks’ all-time list of single-game scoring performances, in addition to becoming the first Knick to ever score 2,000 points in a single season.
Pablo Prigioni: While many NBA players typically conclude their careers in their mid-30s, Pablo Prigioni stands out as a remarkable exception, making his NBA debut at the age of 35 and earning the title of the oldest rookie in NBA history. Pablo transcended the mere novelty of his age, proving to be a significant asset for the Knicks from 2012 to 2015, notably guiding them through the 2013 playoffs as the team’s starting point guard. Although his NBA tenure spanned only four years due to his late start, Pablo’s impact extends beyond the court. His leadership and mentorship qualities paved the way for coaching roles with the Brooklyn Nets and the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he currently serves.
RJ Barrett: Love him or hate him, miss him or otherwise, RJ Barrett may be the most recognizable name to have ever worn the #9 for the Knicks. His accomplishments don’t come close to Guerin’s, but this week’s vote serves as a litmus test distinguishing the true Knicks historians from the more recent Gen Z/Millennial Knicks faithful.
Barrett, who last month was traded to the Toronto Raptors, arrived in New York City as the Knicks’ third pick in the 2019 draft. Coming from Duke with immense potential that sparked lots of optimism, Barrett’s journey with the Knicks did not unfold as envisioned by fans or the organization. Drafted alongside notable names like Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, Barrett was initially labeled as the best all-around player in the class. Despite Zion’s early injury setback, both Luka and Morant, along with others, swiftly surpassed Barrett’s star. Although the 2019-20 season came to an abrupt halt due to the coronavirus, Barrett’s 14 points and 5 rebounds per game were not enough to make the All-Rookie team.
Despite sporadic glimpses of All-Star potential in Barrett’s performances, his struggles with shooting efficiency, both from the field and the free-throw line, along with a notable absence of defensive prowess, hindered him from achieving a breakthrough with the Knicks. Now a part of the Toronto Raptors, Barrett has quickly begun to elevate his play for his new team. Perhaps the fresh start and some hometown cooking will be enough for him to get to the next level.
Honorable Mentions: Butch Beard, Rick Brunson, Jared Jeffries, Kyle O’Quinn
Who Wore it Best? #9