NYC Basketball Vintage: The History of New York City Basketball

NYC Collage Vintage

By Chris Ramirez

New York City basketball is the place of real basketball. The game gets highly emotional, the trash talking, and the crowd gets into the game. For over 50 years, basketball has been a hotbed in the New York City area. All season long, there is a basketball league going throughout the five boroughs indoor and outdoor. People from across the United States come to play and watch the games in the city.

New York City hoops produces some of the greatest basketball players from the past, present, and future. You have your playground legends, All-City players, College All-Americans, and NBA players. Their stepping stones start at the local parks, elementary school gyms, and the high school level.

New York Knicks
The New York Knickerbockers known as the Knicks began play in 1946 when college basketball promoter and sportswriter Ned Irish was granted a Basketball Association of America franchise. The Knicks reached the finals three times in a row from 1951 to 1953, and they were led by Harry Gallatin, Dick McGuire and Carl Braun.

On March 2nd, 1962, the Knicks lost 169–147 to the Philadelphia Warriors, due to Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game. In 1964 when the Knicks drafted Willis Reed, and in 1967, they selected Walt “Clyde” Frazier. The franchise won a record 18 consecutive games during the 1969-70 season on their way to a 60–22 record. The Knicks played the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1970 Finals. Though an injury forced him out of game 6, Reed surprisingly made it onto the court limping for game seven and scored the first two baskets of the night. Walt Frazier scored 36 points, and had19 assists, and the Knicks won the game and captured their NBA Championship.

The Knicks acquire Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and help them returned to the NBA Finals in 1972. This time they lost to the Lakers. The two teams clashed once again the following year and this resulted in the Knicks taking home their second championship in four years. Willis Reed retired in 1974 and the Knicks were mediocre and began to the down years in the late 70’s and early 80s. The team’s struggles earned them the first overall pick in the 1985 draft, where they selected center Patrick Ewing out of Georgetown. During his first season, Ewing average 20 points per game and nine rebounds helped him to win NBA Rookie of the Year honors.

With the Knicks failing to advance past the conference semi-finals since the Reed era, they hired Pat Riley as head coach in 1991. Riley coach the Lakers to four NBA titles in the 80’s. In his first year as head coach; he led the resurgent Knicks to a 51–31 record. The Knicks improved that record further to a staggering 60-22 during the following 1992-93 season. Unfortunately, both those years saw the Knicks matched up in the playoffs against Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, who were in the midst of their first three-peat.

The Knicks were given hope after Jordan retired prior to the 1993–94 season. In fact, they made it to the finals against the Houston Rockets that year. But the Knicks were denied another win when Hakeem Olajuwon led the Rockets to the NBA championship in 1994.

Ewing was injured during the 1999 NBA playoffs in which they were the eight seed during a lockout season and everything was on the line in game 5 in which Allan Houston hit a last second shot to help the Knicks advanced and knock out Alonzo Mourning and the Miami Heat. The swept the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Semi Finals. Then the Knicks play the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals. With the series tied at one and the Knicks were down by three late in the game and Larry Johnson hit a four-point play to give the Knicks the win and advance to the NBA Finals by beating the Pacers in game six. The Knicks would end up losing to the San Antonio Spurs in five games.

Ewing never led the Knicks to greatness, in 2000 he was traded to the Seattle Supersonics. Once Ewing left, the Knicks started to descend and miss the playoff. The Knicks struggle with one-time General Manager Isiah Thomas and talented players like Latrell Sprewell and Stephon Marbury became controversial.

Things appeared to turn around with the 2010 off-season acquisition of Amare Stoudemire and the mid-season trade for Carmelo Anthony. These additions helped push the Knicks to their first winning record since the 2000-01 campaign. Even with Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks have not been able to assemble the talent around Anthony in which it has become a difficult situation. With fierce rivalries and a storied history that spans decades, the New York Knicks remain one of the greatest franchises of all-time.

The Nets 
The Brooklyn Nets was founded in 1967 and was known as the New Jersey Americans during its first season. The team began playing its home games on Long Island in the 1968–69 season, which led the team to change its name to the New York Nets. While they advanced to the ABA finals in 1971–72, the Nets failed to finish higher than third place in any of their first six seasons.

In 1973 the team traded for superstar forward Julius Erving, and the Nets won the ABA title that season, and Erving led the team to a second championship in 1975–76. When the ABA merged with the NBA in 1976, the Nets were forced to raise $8 million in order to join the established league. Lacking many viable assets, the team sold Erving to the Philadelphia 76ers, and its fortunes quickly turned for the worst in which they had five straight losing seasons upon joining the NBA.

The franchise returned to New Jersey in 1977 in which they played at Rutgers University and the Meadowlands arena till 2012. The New Jersey Nets revitalized the team and turn things around in 2000–01 Season behind the play of Jason Kidd, the Nets won the Eastern Conference championship and advanced to the NBA finals in both 2001–02 and 2002–03, but they lost each time.

In 2012 the team—which by that time was owned by a group of investors that included notable figures such as Mikhail Prokhorov and Jay-Z relocated the Nets to Brooklyn in an effort to capitalize on New York’s larger media market. They play at the Barclays Center and in their first year in Brooklyn, the Nets posted a 49–33 record in the 2012–13 season and lost in the first round of the NBA play-offs. In the following off-season the Nets traded for All-Star veterans Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and hired the recently retired Kidd to serve as head coach, but the team struggled to live up to its high expectations for the last few seasons. Kidd spent one year with the Nets as Head Coach and left to take the same position with the Milwaukee Bucks.


1949-50 City College Basketball Team; Credit - NY Times

1949-50 City College Basketball Team; Credit – NY Times

1949-50 City College Basketball Team
City College of New York had a 17-5 record during the 1949-50 regular season, but failed to be in the final AP Top 20. The team was the last squad selected to play in Madison Square Garden’s famed NIT, in which it had a 12-team field and was at that time more prestigious than the NCAA tournament. People took notice when CCNY beat defending champion San Francisco in the opening round. CCNY faced 3rd ranked Kentucky in the second round. CCNY routed Kentucky 89 – 50, which was the worst ever defeat for an Adolph Rupp team. City College then defeated Duquesne 62-52 in the semi-finals to advance to the title game to play top ranked Bradley. CCNY beat Bradley 69-61 to win the NIT and Ed Warner was name Most Valuable Player.

After CCNY’s improbable run to the NIT title, the Beavers were immediately selected to participate in the NCAA tournament. In the first round, City College defeated 2nd ranked Ohio State, 56-55. The Beavers then defeated 5th ranked North Carolina State 78-73 to reach the title game. CCNY once again faced Bradley and won the NCAA tournament, 71-68 to become the only team to win the NIT and NCAA title the same season.

The aftermath after CCNY’s NCAA and NIT championship, there were dark clouds on the horizon. The point-shaving scandal sent shock waves throughout college basketball, and most of the City College players were involved in it. The scandal ended the NBA hopes of the CCNY players, then came the suspension of the basketball program, and forever tarnished the 1949-50 team’s legacy. Following the scandal, the school was moved from Division I to Division III and was banned from playing at Madison Square Garden. As a result of these sanctions, the CCNY basketball program was reduced, and the school has never again appeared in either the NCAA or NIT tournaments. In the 74-year history of the NCAA tournament, CCNY was one of the most unlikely champions, and it was unfortunate that the school would not reach post-season play again. To this day, CCNY is the only NCAA Basketball Championship team that is no longer a member of Division One. Despite the tragedy that happen to CCNY in the aftermath of the point-shaving scandal, the 1950 City team is still the most celebrated college basketball team in the history of New York City.


Felipe Lopez; Credit – SI

St. John’s
St. John’s has been the icon of basketball in New York City along with the Knicks and Nets. It has been competitive mainly back in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s when head coach Lou Carnessecca who spent 24 seasons at St. John’s always made it to postseason in which it made 18 NCAA Tournament and six NITs. Carnesecca record was 526 wins and 200 losses and was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992. In 1991, he became only the 30th NCAA Division I coach to reach 500 career victories.

His NCAA teams were successful advancing to the Final Four in 1985, to the Regional Final in 1979 and 1992; the regional semifinals in 1967, 1969, 1983 and 1991. In the 1988-89 season, he coached his team to a record fifth NIT title. Carnesecca was named Big East Coach of the Year three times and chosen Metropolitan Area Coach of the Year six times by the New York Basketball Writers Association; Louie was name National Coach of the Year in 1983.

In 1985 St John went to the Final Four with a team loaded with local talent good enough to produce four first-round draft picks. A team with a Hall of Fame coach who talked the way people expect New Yorkers to talk. A team that was good enough to reach No. 1 and get to the Final Four.

The Redmen were led by Chris Mullin who was the 1985 National Player of the Year, Walter Berry, Bill Wennington, and Mark Jackson. St. John’s captured the imagination of a city that’s tough to embrace. New Yorkers, even those without St. John’s ties, were pulling for the Redmen, especially against Georgetown and its All-America center Patrick Ewing, who handed St. John’s three of its four losses that season. The Hoyas beat St. John’s in the national semifinals and then lost to Villanova in the title game. It is still the only time three teams from one conference reached the Final Four.

In 1992, Lou Carnesecca retired and was replaced by Frank Mahoney, then the program made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament in 1993. In 1994 St. John’s suffer it first losing season since 1963 and didn’t qualify postseason play since 1964.

1985 St. John's Final Four Team; Credit Daily News

1985 St. John’s Final Four Team; Credit Daily News

During the off-season St. John’s won the recruiting prize when Felipe Lopez a native of the Dominican Republic from the Bronx, New York who was the 1994 National Player of the Year sign with St. John’s. Lopez lead Rice to the 1994 CHSAA City and New York State Federation title who will bring the Johnnies back to National prominence. Lopez was on the cover of Sports Illustrated before he played his first college game. Lopez play four years at St. Johns and only qualify to the NCAA Tournament in his Senior campaign. Lopez put up good numbers but never live up to the high expectations. Felipe played in the NBA with the Grizzlies, Wizards, and Timberwolves for a short stint.

Things are a lot different around the St. John’s program today. The program has several losing seasons and one year they won the NIT Championship and made it to six NCAA appearances in the past 22 years. In addition, have been with seven different head coaches and now former St. John’s great Chris Mullin is entering his second year as head coach. The program has struggle to get the top prize players in the New York City area and they been near the bottom of the Big East. With Mullin there it will be a challenge to bring St. Johns back where it once was.

Madison Square Garden

Jerry Lucas, Walt "Clyde" Frazier, Willis Reed, Phil Jackson, and Bill Bradley; Credit - NY Daily News

Jerry Lucas, Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Willis Reed, Phil Jackson, and Bill Bradley; Credit – NY Daily News

Madison Square Garden aka “The Garden” is a New York City ball players dream to play at for several years. It bought the mystique of the New York Knicks, St. John’s, The Big East Tournament, The NIT, and top notch college classics. It is the Mecca of Basketball and its tradition that other arenas don’t have. “The Garden” bring out the best in the greats; yes, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and other NBA great bring it on at MSG. The Garden has bought some great memories and not only the Knicks. Here are a few of the top moments at “The Garden”:

  • Willis Reed stepped onto The Garden’s floor before Game 7: “The Captain” Willis Reed stepped onto The Garden’s floor before Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals after having left Game 5 and the crowd went wild! No one knew if Reed would play again that year. Reed instead limped onto the court and scored the first two baskets of the game, giving the fans and teammates they needed the shot of adrenaline they needed. Walt Frazier score 36 points, had19 assists and recorded 7 rebounds and the Knicks capture their first NBA Championship by beating the Los Angeles Lakers, 113-99.
John Starks famous dunk in the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals. Credit - AP

John Starks famous dunk in the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals. Credit – AP

  • John Starks “The Dunk”: On May 25, 1993; the Knicks were ahead by three points during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals heading into the final minute. Then probably one of the most famous plays in Knicks history – John Starks performed “The Dunk.” He drove, past one of the Bulls members that sent the fans at The Garden into a burst of excitement. The Knicks won, 96-91.
  • Miller Time – In the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals: Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals Reggie Miller scored 39 points in which 25 of those in the fourth as the Indiana Pacers beat the Knicks 93-86. Miller hit several three’s during the quarter and had discussions with Spike Lee, who was seated courtside. Indiana took a 3–2 series lead with the victory however, they lost the next two games and the series. In 1995, game one of the Eastern Conference Semi Finals the Pacers was down 105-997 seconds; Miller hit a three to cut the Knick lead to 105-102, followed by stealing the inbounds pass and another three to tie the game. John Starks was foul and missed two free throws and then Miller was fouled and made two free throws and the Pacers stole game one 107–105. The Pacers went on to win the series in seven games.
  • Syracuse Defeats UConn in Six OT Game: March 12, 2009; Many basketball fans had a very late night due to the epic Big East Tournament Quarterfinal game with UConn vs Syracuse. The game was tied between No. 18 Syracuse and No. 3 Connecticut at the end of regulation. The game went on to play six overtime periods and the matchup lasted 3 hours and 46 minutes before Syracuse beat out UConn 127-117, with the final buzzer ringing out at 1:22 a.m. By then, eight players had fouled out and the game is in the record books as the longest in Big East history and the second longest in Division I history.
  • Larry Johnson’ s 4-point Play in the 1999 Eastern Conference Finals: The Knicks were down by three in the last seconds of Game Three of the 1999 Eastern Conference Finals. What happened next was a shot no Knicks fan will ever forget. Larry Johnson threw a shot from behind the three-point arc, but then was fouled by Antonio Davis of the Indiana Pacers. The three-point ball went through the net. Johnson’s free throw ensured the Game Three win with a score of 92-91. The team was end route to make the Knicks the first-ever eighth-seeded team to head to The NBA Finals as they beat Indiana in six games. 
  • Charles Smith Miss Layups: On June 2, 1993, whenKnicks Forward Charles Smith missed four straight layup attempts in the final seconds of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals in which they lost 97-94 to fall behind 3-2 in a series they eventually lost. 
  • The Miracle on 33rd Street December 25th 1985: The New York Knicks was down 58-33, with 6:39 left in the third quarter. Rookie Knick center Patrick Ewing, was the driving force in one of the greatest comebacks in the franchise history. He scored a career-high 32 points, 18 in the fourth quarter, and added 11 rebounds to lead the a 113-104 double overtime win over Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics. 
  • Clutch Kemba in 2011: UConn was on the bubble of the NCAA Tournament and a 9th seed in the Big East Tournament. They won convincingly against DePaul and Georgetown in their first two games. Then it all started with his buzzer-beater against Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals. Then he lead the Huskies over Syracuse in the Semi Finals in which he score 33 points and had 12 rebounds. Then in the Big East Championship, he help beat Louisville. Walker scored 130 points in a five game span in the tournament and was name MVP and they went on and beat Butler to win the NCAA Championship. 
  • Big East Championship UConn vs Georgetown 1996: Ray Allen and Allen Iverson did not stay in the Big East very long, but they made their final moments memorable. Allen, who had been shut out for the entire second half, launched an off-balance jumper with 15 seconds left which somehow found the net, capping a 12-point Huskies run to erase an 11-point Hoyas lead. Iverson then went coast-to-coast (of course) but missed a jumper from the foul line. Jerome “Junkyard Dog” Williams’ put-back caromed off the front of the rim, and the Huskies won a game that Georgetown appeared to have it wrap up a minutes earlier.
L to R; Malik Sealy, Bill Travers, Kenny Anderson, Rob Werdann, and Jamaal Faulkner

L to R; Malik Sealy, Bill Travers, Kenny Anderson, Rob Werdann, and Jamaal Faulkner

High School
Back in the 60’s and 70’s the Public School City Champion played against Catholic High School Champion for the ultimate city title at Madison Square Garden. It was the best thing that was going on back in the days and the Garden was completely sold out. Due to riots and gang violence, the event had to be removed from the Garden and it ended the matchup between the PSAL and CHSAA championship teams. Anyway, the city championships for both leagues still carry on it’s tradition.

The PSAL play the city title at St. John’s and Hunter in the late 70’s and 80’s. In the early 90’s the Public High School city championship games were allow to return to play at Madison Square Garden. The Catholic High School continue to play at Fordham University in the Bronx. The winners of the CHSAA and PSAL titles compete upstate and play the New York State Public School champions and Private Schools. The New York State championships began in 1979, the two city champions play each other a majority of the time. It is not the same upstate as it will be in New York City. It will always be a player’s dream to win the city title over the state.

Power Memorial and Tolentine won more than a city or state championship; they had experience of winning a National High School Championship. In 1967, Power was led by the great Lew Alcindor (Now Kareem Abdul Jabaar) and in 1988, Tolentine High in the Bronx was led by the late Malik Sealy. Sealy star at St. John’s and played with Minnesota Timberwolves. Tolentine was also led by Adrian “Red” Autry who played for Syracuse and Brian Reese who was a standout at North Carolina. Some of the city championship teams finish in the top 25 such as Clinton, Alexander Hamilton, Christ The King, Rice, Loughlin, St. Raymond’s, Lincoln, Grady, and LaSalle.

Julius Erving at the Rucker. Credit- Pinterest

Julius Erving at the Rucker. Credit- Pinterest

The Playground
Every June the annual premiere Summer Basketball Leagues begin. The top leagues will take place every summer in which any given day/evening any top college or NBA player may come out and showcase their talents. The league you want to check out is:

  • The Pro City League at Baruch College in Midtown Manhattan
  • Entertainers Basketball Classic at Rucker Park
  • Mousey Tri-State Classic in Harlem
  • Dyckman Summer League in Washington Heights
  • West 4th Street Summer League in Greenwich Village known as The Cage
  • Hoops in the Sun in Orchard Beach in the Bronx

When you attend; you won’t be disappointed the crowd packs it up and brings a special tradition to New York Basketball. The league where the celebrities come out to watch or play. Rap artist and NBA stars come out and played. Also some of these rap artist has teams in the league as well.


Earl "The Goat" Mannigult; Credit - Hoopsvibe

Earl “The Goat” Mannigult; Credit – Hoopsvibe

Here are the top playground legends:
Earl “The Goat” Mannigult – Known as the greatest player who never played in the NBA. Had great leaping ability and school the likes of Wilt, Connie, and Kareem on the Rucker playgrounds. Rebound from heroin use and gave back to his community. A park and tournament is name after him on the lower Eastside in Manhattan.

James “Fly” Williams – Can light it up on offense, drops 63 points on Moses Malone in the Dapper Dan Classic. Had a brief stint at Austin Peay State (TN).

Richard “Pee Wee” Kirkland – Had fierce rivalries with Tiny Archibald. He rejected a contract that the Chicago Bulls offer him and said “Hey I could make more money in a couple of days on the street”.

Joe “The Destroyer” Hammond – Score 50 points in one half against Julius Erving in the Rucker Tournament.

Lloyd “Sweet Pea” Daniels – He was a one-man gang on his team. He can do it all score, rebound, and had a lot of versatility. Daniels had poor grades, which force him to attend four different schools in 3 years. Drop out of high school in 1986 got his GED. His arrest for drug possession prevents from playing at UNLV. After recovering from his gunshot wounds, he had a few brief stints in the NBA with San Antonio, LA Lakers, and Philadelphia.

Rafer “Skip to My Lou” Alston – A flashy and quick point guard can make things happen. Star at Cardoza HS and played at for the late Jerry Tarkanian at Fresno State after transferring from the JUCO ranks. Became an icon for the And 1 Mixtape Tour and develop his skill in the NBA and became a key player for the Orlando Magic to help them reach the 2009 NBA Finals.

Here are the other great playground players:  Ed “Boger” Smith, James “Speedy” Williams, Malloy “The Future” Neismith, Anthony Heyward aka Half Man Half Amazing and Ron “The Terminator” Mathias.

The courts of New York City show passion and better have your game face on. If you’re not ready to play or show no emotion you will get eaten alive and chewed out. It’s a game of toughness when you play on the courts and you come bring it. NYC players play with heart and you get to see old school style of basketball.


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