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When the NBA playoffs kick off tomorrow, for the first time in history, they will be held without the New York Knicks, Boston Celtics or Los Angeles Lakers.
If you’re a Lakers fan, you need only to flash back four years to revel in NBA championship glory. If you’re a Celtics fan, you have to go back a couple years earlier to 2008, the last year your franchise raised a championship banner.
But if you’re a Knicks fan like actor/director Michael Rapaport you have to hop in your mental time machine and travel back 41 years, to 1973, to the last time your team tasted championship victory.
Not surprisingly, the biggest cheer at last night’s gala premiere of When The Garden Was Eden, Rapaport’s buoyant, feel-good documentary about the golden era of Knicks teams came at the end when a sentence flashed on the screen announcing that Phil Jackson, a key role-player on those 1970s title teams, had taken over as president of the Knicks.
No doubt, Phil Jackson, who was sitting there somewhere inside the dark theater at the Borough of Manhattan Community College in TriBeca, could hear in the thunderous ovation a yearning for those glorious days of prideful defense, unselfish play and electric title runs.
The Zen Master might have an easier time levitating himself than turning the Knicks into a winner again. As Rapaport makes clear in Eden, it took a special melding of vastly different personalities to create a single cohesive jump-shot juggernaut. Their no-nonsense coach, Red Holzman, deserves credit for getting superstars Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Willis Reed, Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and Jerry Lucas to sacrifice statistics for the good of the team. But it was the players themselves, an unusually philosophical bunch of ballers, who let their passion for winning resolve tensions arising from the passion of their conflicting beliefs (in a time of unprecedented social upheaval in America.)
When The Garden Was Eden features interviews with most of the guys on the championship rosters, as well as the likes of longtime Knicks broadcaster Marv Albert and rival player Jerry West, and an absolutely killer ‘70s soul soundtrack. You can argue whether or not the Knicks teams of the early 1970s were the best of all-time, but this list of top 10 quotes from the documentary will attest to the fact they were, indeed, the most quotable. And the most fly. Any picture of Clyde Frazier in his retro threads will show you that.
10. “I wanted to do the Sprewell on him before there was a Sprewell.” — Clyde Frazier on coach Red Holzman when he started his reign as Knicks coach.
9. “Phil Jackson would fight his own players in practice.” — Marv Albert
8. “I was happy when he finally went to sleep.” — Phil Jackson on his eccentric roommate Jerry “The Brain” Lucas
7. “The place exploded.” — Cazzie Russell, Knicks Forward 1966-71, on the scene in Madison Square Garden when an injured Willis Reed limped out of the tunnel just before Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals.
6. “This is a hell of a predicament you’ve gotten yourself in.” — Willis Reed, upon hearing the raucous ovation as he came out onto the court.
5. “Red told me to hit the open man but as the game went on I was the open man.” — Clyde Frazier on his dominating performance in Game 7, resulting in New York’s first NBA championship.
4. “It was destiny, man. Had we played the Lakers ten more times we wouldn’t have won.” — Clyde Frazier on the 1970 NBA Finals victory.
3. “Anybody who recognizes me, tells me I was there.” — Willis Reed on fans coming up to him, saying they were at MSG for Game 7 in 1970.
2. “To be traded to Cleveland of all places.” — Clyde Frazier on being moved to the Cavaliers after 10 years with the Knicks.
1. “We were part of the city.” — Phil Jackson on the Knicks heyday in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
EXTRA QUOTE “Linsanity reminds me of Bill Bradley.” — Clyde Frazier
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Matthew Shepatin is the author of three books, including, most recently, Marathon Man (St. Martin's Press) with running legend Bill Rodgers. He has written for The New York Post, Esquire, Playboy, Black Book Magazine, and The Village Voice. Follow him on twitter @mshepatin.