Bread City Basketball


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

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WOODY AND THE KNICKS

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