The names of the players on the last Knicks championship team, the 1972-73 squad, still echo through Madison Square Garden, with six of their jerseys hanging in the rafters. And while he was not one of the stars like Walt Frazier or Willis Reed, Harthorne Wingo was for a time nearly as familiar.
As the Knicks moved from a powerhouse to a struggling franchise, the chants of "De-fense" were swapped with a cry of "Harthorne Wingo," for the popular 6-9 forward. The Knicks announced on Monday that Wingo passed away Saturday at the age of 73.
It was no coincidence that he captured the hearts of New Yorkers and not just for his name. Wingo, who had grown up in North Carolina, was one of the early students to integrate high schools and sports in the state. He then played a year at Friendship Junior College before deciding to move up to New York, where he displayed his athleticism on the courts at Rucker Park. He was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in the Rucker Pro League.
Wingo was invited to play for the Harlem Wizards, but the Knicks pushed him to sign with Allentown of the Eastern League, where he led the team to a championship and won Most Valuable Player honors. The next season he got the call to join the Knicks and was a bit player on that championship team as a rookie.
He played three more seasons with the Knicks, his biggest contributions coming in the 1974-75 season when he averaged 7.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and played 20 minutes per game. In that championship season he was the last player off the bench for Red Holzman, the crowd chanting his name as a sure sign that the game was over. Describing those days in a New York Times story 30 years ago, Frazier said, "In those days, Wingy was on Cloud Nine with the rest of us."
After his time with the Knicks came to an end Wingo played professionally overseas, joining teams in Italy, Switzerland and Argentina. He retired in 1983 and returned to New York where he lived the rest of his life, joining the Knicks for events honoring the 1973 champions.
While he left for the money and opportunity that overseas basketball offered, Wingo remained a cultural touchstone in New York — even finding his name in the lyrics of a Beastie Boys song, "Lay It On Me," which included the line, "My favorite New York Knick was Harthorne Wingo."