Knicks Notes: The Golden Age of Losing



2 Penn Plaza NY 10121

Neighborhood: Clinton

The more games the New York Knicks won the more they raised the ticket prices. I could only afford to see them at Madison Square Garden if they continued to have losing seasons. I’d buy a ticket from a scalper. Instead of charging more he’d sell it for a fraction of what it was worth, because no one wanted to see them.

Therefore, it was in my best interest to root for them to lose. I had to do it silently, so I wouldn’t get beat up by a fanatic fan. I didn’t mind if they won as long as they did it in moderation. I was afraid that winning could become addictive. I’d breathe a sigh of relief each time the other team ended the Knick’s winning streak.

In the early eighties the Knicks had a center named Ken Bannister. He was nicknamed "The Animal." He had a strong set of teeth, & liked to bite opposing players. He felt that since he was shorter than most centers he had a right to make up for his lack of height by creating fear. He’d usually try to bite the other player in the arm. But if he was knocked to the floor he’d bite the leg. He led the league every year at getting thrown out of games for biting.

He was a power forward, but because the Knicks didn’t have a center he was forced to play out of position. Since he wasn’t playing his true position he had an excuse not do well. The only times he had good nights were when the opposing players were tired of getting bitten, & wouldn’t guard him. But since the Knicks were doing so poorly they had the opportunity to get a center in the draft. Bannister was forced to play power forward again, & no longer had any excuses. He was released.

The Knicks thought they could improve by hiring a new coach. They chose Hubie Brown, who loved to experiment by making a player play a different position from what he was used to. That way he could yell at them more. If the players played their natural positions he’d have nothing to teach them. But by making a shooting guard play the point he had to teach him all the fundamentals.

Brown made Louis Orr, a small forward, into a power forward. Orr was as skinny as a stringbean. Players at that position have to be strong. At first Orr did well, because when the power forward on the opposing team saw that Orr was guarding him he’d get overexcited & demand the ball. He’d usually commit a walking violation or miss an easy shot. But the more Orr played the more the opposing player would calm down. He’d get used to Orr & hit all his shots.

The Knicks would try to improve by getting the player they had wanted ten years ago. But by the time they got him he was either too old or too crippled by injuries to be his old self. They did this with Kiki Vanderwegh. He was once a great shooter, but when the Knicks finally got him he’d only shoot air balls – the ball wouldn’t hit the rim. His shots were still beautiful to look at – the ball would fall in a perfect arc – but it was like his body was too tired to propell the ball the necessary distance. It kept falling an inch short.

The Knicks traded for a power forward named Truck Robinson. The year before he had led the league in rebounds. But as soon as he got to the Knicks he said he was tired of doing all the dirty work, & wanted to shoot. But since he had never shot the ball much he wasn’t good at it. He also didn’t want to take easy shots, but preferred to take them from far away. But when he took those shots he was no longer in position to grab the rebound. He was eventually traded.

At one point the Knicks were close to being good, because they got a superstar named Bernard King. But he soon became a victim of one of Brown’s rules. Brown had many of them, because breaking one of them gave him another excuse to yell. You were not allowed to let the opposing player take an uncontested layup. You had to foul him & make him earn the two points from the foul line. Brown thought if you were able to intimidate the other players they’d depart from their game & played scared.

One night King stopped a player from making a layup, but by doing so he tore up his knee. The player didn’t act intimidated. Instead, he showed a lot of concern for King, even though the injury was not his fault.

King tried to rehabilitate his knee. He went swimming every day. He made great progress as a swimmer but none on his knee. He never played for the Knicks again.

The Knicks drafted Trent Tucker. He was a specialist at making the three point shot. Calling someone a specialist meant he couldn’t do other things well, like dribble the ball to free himself for a shot. Tucker would never miss, but in order for him to take the shot he had to be left undefended. The other teams knew that, & made sure someone was covering him. Therefore, he had to take them from a longer distance to be left open. Instead of a thirty foot shot he took a fifty foot one. That was just too far for him.

The Knicks had this philosophy of hitting the open man. Instead of being selfish & forcing a shot they were supposed to pass the ball to whoever was left unguarded. Since the other team knew about this strategy they’d purposely leave the worst Knick shooter unguarded. As soon as he’d get the ball the opposing player would dare him to shoot. He’d miss most of the time.

The players would get frustrated watching the same players keep missing their shots. They accused each other of deliberately being a bad shooter, so they’d get the ball more. It destroyed the team chemistry. I kept hoping for more team dissension. It meant there would continue to be cheap seats.

Ken (The Animal) Bannister expressing himself. Photo: George Kalinsky
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§ 3 Responses to “Knicks Notes: The Golden Age of Losing”

  • Candelaria says:

    Me gustaría saber si sigue en activo Ken (The animal) Bannister, tal vez como entrenador o preparador físico, ya que un jugador de tal envergadura puede aportar mucho a los jóvenes que aman este deporte y disfrutan con los grandes.
    Habrá algún periodista deportivo que tenga alcance a él, para entrevistarlo por su trayectoria y pueda aportar mas de su experiencia.
    Sería interesante que alguien me confirmara de esta posibilidad.
    Muchas gracias a quien me responda.
    Un saludo.

  • Geno says:

    Reading this in Oct 2020 ..the last few years make those early 80s teams lookk like all-stars…hysterical

  • Anthony Rickelle Ford says:

    I am a former Teammate/ Roommate of Ken. We attended Trinidad State Junior College in Trinidad, Colorado in 1979. He wasn’t like he was in the NBA. He was a real humble, sincere individual. Ken wore a size 16′ shoe. He had a habit of leaving his sneakers out in the middle of our dorm room.

    I would actually trip over them. For whatever reason(s) he transferred out of the room and moved in with another player. It was cool. I had the room to myself. Nevertheless though, I am very proud of Ken as he fulfilled his dreams of playing Professional Basketball. I am from Richmond, Virginia and Michigan is my second Home (Detroit). I played basketball for Southern Christian College in Terrell Texas 1993. I am a former High School Basketball Referee/Official. I am a Family Researcher/Genealogist.

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