Bread City Basketball


What attracted me was the swish, the sound of the dribble, the feel of going up in the air. You don’t need eight others, like in baseball. You don’t need any brothers or sisters. Just you. I wonder what the guys are doing back home. I’d like to be there, but it’s as much fun here, because I’m playing. It’s getting dark. I have to go back for dinner. I’ll shoot a couple more. Feels good. A couple more.
– From A Sense of Where you Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton, by John McPhee

The Knicks stole Bill Bradley in the 1965 NBA Draft. There was no frozen envelope, just a now-obscure rule known as the Territorial Pick. Between 1950 and 1966, NBA teams had first dibs on drafting any college player within 50 miles.

Bradley had graduated from Princeton as the Associated Press Player of the Year, the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, and a two-time First Team All-American. And since Princeton, New Jersey is 1 mile closer to New York City than to Philadelphia, the Knicks were able to scoop Bradley away from the 76ers as a Territorial Pick.

The rest is history: Bradley played with New York for his entire basketball career – save for one season with Olimpia Milano – and his #24 jersey was retired by the Knicks in 1984.

Bill Bradley Knick


Woody Allen on Earl Monroe

“What makes Monroe different is the indescribable heat of genius that burns deep inside him. Some kind of diabolical intensity comes across his face when he has the ball. One is suddenly transported to a more primitive place…It’s amazing, because the audience’s “high” originates inside Monroe and seems to emerge over his exterior.
– Woody Allen, Sport Magazine, Nov. 1977.

Allen is sent by the once-great Sport to interview Earl Monroe for a cover story. But Pearl never shows and Allen is left to make small talk with “Earl’s lady.” A true fan, Woody swallows the snub and writes a great profile of the arthritic Knicks captain anyway, full of signature wit and basketball wisdom.

I read a transcript of the article once before, but never saw the original scans until yesterday, thanks to the excellent Oakley & Allen. True holy grail status! Check it out.

Earl Monroe photographed by Jim Cummins


In 1971 I wrote and shot a scene for Annie Hall involving the Knicks and Earl The Pearl. I was extolling the concept of the physical over the cerebral, so I wrote a fantasy basketball game in which all the great thinkers of history – Kant and Nietzsche and Kirkegaard – played against the Knicks. I cast actors who looked like those philosophers to play those roles and they played against the real Knicks. We used the players on the team at that time including Earl, Bill Bradley and Walt Frazier, and we shot it inside Madison Square Garden after the last game of the season. Of course the Knicks were smooth and beat the philosophers easily; all their cerebration was impotent against the Knicks. But I cut the scene from the picture, not because it didn’t come out but because I had to keep the picture moving and it was too much of a digression. It didn’t break my heart not to use it in the film. I always feel that anything I cut out of a film is always a mercy killing.
– Woody Allen, The Observer Sport Monthly, 1/6/02

Another example of the profound cultural impact the Knicks had on New York during the early 1970s. Willis Reed and company brought pro hoops to the forefront of the city’s popular consciousness for the first time, winning two championships along the way. Before then, the NBA wasn’t really legit in NYC, and people only cared about college ball.

It was the most volatile era in New York’s modern history. A time of grime and racial tension. Crime skyrocketing. Junkies ruling the parks. Student protestors and construction workers brawling on Wall Street. The South Bronx burning down to rubble. Cops with German Shepherds patrolling the graffiti-covered subway cars.

And yet amidst all the antipathy, the entire city was united in its passion for the Knicks. It wasn’t because of one or two individual players. It was because together, the Knicks’ game aesthetically complemented New York so perfectly. A melting pot of styles, races, and personalities that melded to form an unstoppable team. Flashy at times, but blue collar at heart, with a deep bench that could outlast top-heavy teams like Wilt Chamberlain’s Lakers.

All that remains of Woody Allen’s 1971 Knicks footage is the still frame below. It was used as a lobby card during Annie Hall‘s original theatrical run. According to Allen, the rest of the scene was destroyed.

woody allen knicks annie hall


You couldn’t talk to a player until he was finished getting dressed. That was one of the locker room’s unspoken rules. So for fifteen minutes after every game, the crowd of writers just milled around, pretending not to watch Stephon Marbury moisturize, waiting like vultures for the moment when we could swoop in for pull quotes. First interview dibs usually went to TV, then local beat journalists on deadline, then everyone else. As the youngest and most inexperienced writer there, I got the scraps. If I was lucky…

It’s 2007. I’m angling for a good spot by David Lee’s locker when I hear an unmistakable baritone voice. I turn around, and who struts into the room? None other than the great Walt Frazier.

Yes, Clyde the Glide himself, the smoothest cat to ever don a Knicks uniform, microphone in hand and remote broadcast crew in tow. He is rocking an incandescent blue suit with a yellow tie like it’s easy, and I can’t help but stare. I’m half star struck, half simply blinded by fashion. As he passes, he smiles like we’re friends from back in the day and says, what’s happenin’ man?

Then Cylde walks right up to David Lee, who is still only half dressed. He turns to the camera, and begins the interview. The unwritten rules don’t apply to the cool.

Walt Cylde Frazier: Most Stylish Knick


Theologian Novak, M [Michael] (1976) claims that sports are a form of “natural” religion because both are shaped by what he sees as an impulse for freedom, respect for ritual limits, a zest for symbolic meaning, and a longing for perfection. It is a type of godliness because they emerge out of the same quest for perfection in body, mind and spirit that leads people to form their conceptions of God-conceptions that always embody the ideals of a particular group or society.

– Excerpted from Can Sports Exist Without Religion? by Ruphine S. Obare

rick barry 1973