Empire State Giants: Tracing the Knicks’ Storied Past

Did you know the New York Knicks are foundational to the very fabric of the NBA? As one of the inaugural New York basketball teams, their rich tapestry weaves through the heart of the sport since being established in 1946 by Ned Irish, a key figure in Madison Square Garden’s history.

You’ll embark on a journey through time, from the Knicks’ inception as a pivotal BAA member to their resilient presence in the NBA’s Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division.  This article offers an insightful exploration into the triumphs and tribulations that have shaped the New York Knicks’ storied past.

The Formation and Early Years

In 1946, the landscape of American basketball was forever changed with the establishment of the New York Knicks as a cornerstone of the Basketball Association of America (BAA), the precursor to what is known today as the NBA. 

The team’s moniker, “Knicks,” is a nod to New York’s heritage, drawing from the term “Knickerbockers,” which was historically associated with the city’s early Dutch settlers and later, an early baseball team.

Under the leadership of Neil Cohalan, their first coach and general manager, the Knicks debuted with a narrow victory against the Toronto Huskies, marking the beginning of their competitive legacy. 

Their first season was a testament to their potential, finishing with a 33-27 record and securing second place in the Eastern Division. This early success was largely attributed to their formidable defense, orchestrated by Nat Clifton, a defensive specialist who left an indelible mark on the team’s strategy.

The Knicks’ historical trajectory has been marked by notable achievements, including eight NBA Finals appearances, with a particularly memorable streak from 1951 to 1953. Despite not clinching the championship during those consecutive appearances, these early years laid the foundation for the team’s enduring legacy. 

Since their inception, the Knicks have been an integral part of the NBA’s history and have maintained their position in the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division post the 1970-71 realignment. 

Their home games have been played at Madison Square Garden since 1968, a venue that has received acclaim from Rolling Stone and Billboard, further solidifying the Knicks as a central figure in New York basketball teams and the broader sports culture.

Golden Era: The Championship Years

The Golden Era of the New York basketball teams is epitomized by the Knicks’ championship triumphs in the early 1970s. This period is marked by exceptional leadership and a roster of players whose names are now etched in NBA history.

  • Championship Success:
    • The Knicks clinched their first NBA championship in the 1949-1950 season with Joe Lapchick at the coaching helm.
    • Two illustrious championships were won in 1970 and 1973 under the guidance of coach Red Holzman.
    • Willis Reed, awarded NBA Finals MVP in both championship years, was instrumental in these victories.
  • Legendary Players:
    • The roster boasted the talents of Bill Bradley, Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, and Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, players renowned for their skill and influence on the game.
    • The 1972-73 team, in particular, was lauded for their selflessness and disciplined approach to the game.
  • Legacy and Celebration:
    • February 2023 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1973 championship, celebrated by the Knicks and Madison Square Garden.
    • Throughout 77 seasons, the Knicks have made 44 playoff appearances, with eight culminating in NBA Finals appearances, solidifying their legacy.

Struggles and Rebuilding

Since their last championship in 1973, the New York Knicks have faced challenges in securing another title despite making the playoffs 39 times. This period of struggle and rebuilding has seen various strategies and leadership styles aimed at revitalizing one of the most iconic New York basketball teams.

  • Leadership and Cultural Shift: Under Phil Jackson’s leadership, the team experienced a significant cultural shift, emphasizing team success over individual achievements. J.R. Smith, for instance, demonstrated a new perspective by focusing more on the team’s success rather than personal scoring.
  • Roster Adjustments:
    • The frontcourt rotation, including players like Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire, was identified as needing defensive improvement.
  • Player Development:
    • RJ Barrett undertook an off-season transformation to improve his shooting mechanics. Working with skills trainer Drew Hanlen for five weeks in Orlando, this transformation focused on breaking down and rebuilding his shooting mechanics from the ground up.
    • With a healthy roster and Carmelo Anthony receiving help, the Knicks have the potential to chase a championship in the future.

This period of struggles and rebuilding showcases the Knicks’ determination to return to their former glory, making them a team to watch for fans of New York basketball teams and the NBA at large.

The Modern Era and Future Outlook

In the modern era, the New York Knicks have strategically positioned themselves for a promising future, reflecting a blend of youthful talent and experienced leadership. Basketball fans interested in the dynamics of the New York rivalry should keep an eye on the Nets odds to win, as they provide insight into the evolving strengths of the two teams.

Also, key offseason priorities have set the stage for potential growth. The New York Knicks, valued at 5.8 billion U.S. dollars in 2021 and holding a significant cultural impact, continue to be a cornerstone of NBA history. 


The essence of the Knicks’ storied past, coupled with the challenges and achievements detailed, underscores the Knicks’ indomitable spirit and their significant contribution to basketball. This illustrious journey not only celebrates the franchise’s golden eras and legends but also highlights the strategic vision that propels them toward a promising future.