As a thirty-something New York sports fan, I’ve had the good fortune to experience quite a few iconic moments. Bucky Dent’s home run was my introduction to sports fandom. Chris Mullin’s run to the Final Four was my gateway drug to a life of basketball addiction. I watched as the Rangers broke a fifty-year Stanley Cup drought. I celebrated Scott Norwood’s “wide right” and David Tyree’s helmet catch. I was in the house when a one-armed man threw a no-hitter at Yankee Stadium, and when Derek Jeter hit baseball’s first November home run.
But most of my greatest Knick memories are obscured by other associations. John Starks’ dunk over Michael Jordan came just days before Charles Smith’s utter failure. The immortal four-point plays by Larry Johnson and Hubert Davis didn’t lead to titles. The 1994 series began with OJ Simpson in the white Bronco, and ended with Starks shooting 2-for-18. The unlikely run to the Finals in ’99 was marred by Patrick Ewing’s torn Achilles. Since then? Not many Knick moments that would appear on anyone’s “greatest” anything list.
So if I had a chance to spend a little time with one of those magical talking basketballs, my choice would be the game ball from Game Seven of the 1970 Finals. You might know it as “The Willis Reed Game.”
No another event from before my birth that looms larger in my sporting consciousness. I don’t talk about Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle or Joe Namath… but every twisted ankle in every pickup game of my life has been punctuated with at least one Willis Reed reference.
Of course, that may be a testament to Marv Albert’s place in pop culture as much as anything; Marvelous is good for about one “Willis Reed” per game.
A real first-hand (metaphorically speaking, of course… talking basketballs have no hands) account of that game would go a long way towards erasing—or maybe just reducing the impact of—all the disappointments that came later. Reed’s appearance got the Knicks started. Clyde Frazier’s otherworldly 36-point, 19-assist performance sealed the deal. They made the Knicks champions.
Forty-one years later, I can almost year the Madison Square Garden crowd roar.
More from “Talking To Talking Balls Week” at the Good Men Project:
Ryan Jones: Zeke’s Ankle
Andrew Sharp: 2 for 18
David Matthews: The Logo
Nick Mancini: The ‘94 Knicks
Yago Colás: Nasty Infinities
Max Ornstein: Walt Clyde
Eric Freeman: Smush and Kwame?