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Garden salutes 1969-70 champion Knicks

Knicks legend Willis Reed, left, touches the Walter

Knicks legend Willis Reed, left, touches the Walter A. Brown Trophy as fellow Knicks legend Walt Frazier looks at Madison Square Garden, Monday. (Feb. 22, 2010) Photo Credit: Jason Decrow

Most people in the building were too young to recall the 1969-70 Knicks as anything more than images from fading, grainy highlights.

Last night, though, they came to life, nine men who helped the franchise secure its first championship, honored at Madison Square Garden and gathered around the Walter A. Brown Trophy.

"The memories abound and astound,'' Walt Frazier told the crowd, acting as a team spokesman.

For Frazier, an MSG analyst, the Garden remains his place of work. But some of the support players from that team hadn't been back in years.

Frazier and Willis Reed said they hadn't seen some in 30 years. But those who attended fell easily back into a comfortable familiarity. "It doesn't seem that long ago,'' Reed said.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson was unable to attend, but key role players such as Cazzie Russell and Mike Riordan did, as did all four living starters. The late Dave DeBusschere was represented by his sons; family members also represented coach Red Holzman, assistant-scout Dick McGuire, general manager Eddie Donovan and trainer Danny Whelan.

The biggest reactions were reserved for Frazier, who led the rout of the Lakers in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals, and Reed, who famously limped onto the court and scored the first four points.

Reed re-created the moment last night, arriving just as the 40-year-old video of him doing so appeared on the scoreboard.

During his address to the crowd, Frazier recalled watching Reed, seeing the Lakers' stars mesmerized by the sight and, "I started to believe I could do anything, and I almost did - 36 points, 19 assists.''

The crowd's applause for the most part was respectful more than it was wild, presumably because of the passage of time. But even younger fans seemed to appreciate the team's status as one of the most beloved and respected in New York sports history.

Dick Barnett called it "a symphony of talents.'' Bill Bradley said it was "a lot more like ballet than it was like sumo wrestling.''

For all the attention Game 7 has received over the decades, Bradley said he is just as fond of Game 5, which the Knicks won after losing Reed to an injury in the first quarter.

"The fifth game was the one I thought made an equal comment about the team,'' he said. "It couldn't happen if we didn't have the attitude of unselfishness and respect for each other.''

One of that season's most memorable games was played Nov. 28, 1969, when a late comeback against the Cincinnati Royals gave the Knicks a then-record 18-game winning streak.

"That game, I thought, propelled things to another level,'' said Bob Wolff, who called it on Channel 9. "My feeling that night was this was it. Everyone realized how big this could be.''

Several players said it didn't seem so long ago. Or at least it seemed that way from their necks up.

"But not if you're my body,'' Bradley said, laughing, "and you get up every day and try to walk.''

New York Sports