I am too young to know of Carl Braun. I was born 10 years after his NBA career ended and have only seen black-and-white images of his playing days with the Knicks. But I'm a firm believer in honoring tradition and celebrating heritage and, therefore, I'm a believer that Braun's No. 4 should be hanging in the Garden rafters.
I wrote his obituary for Newsday, which you can read here. I had the pleasure of talking with one of his daughters, Susan, who is an assistant girls basketball coach for The Waldof School in Garden City. Susan followed in her father's footsteps by playing at Garden City High. "I had a fairly unremarkable career," she said.
"My Dad used to say I passed too much and needed to shoot more," Susan then said. "He'd say, 'Who are you, Dick McGuire?'"
Susan was two years old when her dad retired, so she doesn't have a great deal of memories of his career, either. But she does have a connection to the Knicks that goes beyond the game. It is in the hurt when she learned McGuire passed away last week. It is in how she refers to another Knick great, Richie Guerin, as "Uncle Richie."
And while we're all wrapped up in the future, in 2010 free agency and LeBron James, we still really don't know the past. McGuire, Braun and Guerin were the best of many great players who helped establish this franchise in the early years of the NBA. Only McGuire, a Hall of Famer, has seen his number go up to the Garden ceiling.
Braun, a five-time all-star, didn't get into the Hall. Guerin remains on the waiting list as he is often included among the legends candidates but hasn't gotten the call. But that shouldn't diminish his importance to the franchise.
I wrote a blog last year after the Knicks held their first Legends Night (a long overdue idea by Donnie Walsh that will return this season when they celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 1969-70 championship team on Feb. 22) in which I suggested the team should consider retiring more numbers in honor of the past players who have gone overlooked for too long. Among that list was Braun, the franchise's first star player, Guerin (No. 9), a prolific scorer, and Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton (No. 8), who was the first black player who signed an NBA contract.
Last season the Rangers did the right thing by hosting a special night to honor two greats from the past, Harry Howell and Andy Bathgate. The Knicks could do the same by hosting a night that sends three numbers to the rafters. And they should do it while at least one of them -- Guerin -- is still alive to see it happen.
"If you want to have tradition and you want to create something, you have to recognize people that made contributions to your franchise," Guerin told me last year, "regardless of how good the team was."
He's right. The Knicks are all about the future right now. All about rebuilding a franchise that was among the NBA's elite in the 1990s. The value of the Knicks right now is often measured by the tradition of the Garden more than the tradition of the franchise, which, despite only two championships, is one of the NBA's original teams.
Braun didn't go to his death bed bitter at the Knicks. Susan told me her father was a devoted Knick well after his playing career ended, even though his memory had so often been left behind in some dusty book.
"He played one year with the Celtics and won a championship and has a lovely ring," Susan said. "But the truth is, I never heard a single story about that. He was a Knick."
And he should be forever remembered as such.