Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.

By modern standards, the reaction was shockingly low-key for a team that had just won a championship.

One reason was that it was a less showy era, another that it happened on the road. But as Walt Frazier watched the ancient video Monday, he recalled this about the NBA champion 1972-73 Knicks:

"There was not a lot of celebrating, because we had been there before and thought we were going to do it again."

They did it that season -- as they had three years earlier -- but it is unlikely that any of them that night at the Forum would have thought that 40 years later, the franchise still would be waiting to do it again.

It is a drought that has made the Knicks' two titles grow more precious over time, with the 1972-73 team lately getting its due after decades of being overshadowed by the dramatics that surrounded the 1969-70 team's championship.

The players from the 1972-73 team were honored at Friday's Knicks game and will be recalled again Sunday when MSG replays Game 5 of the '73 Finals against the Lakers -- thanks to an unlikely story of discovery and recovery. (More on that later.)

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Frazier lamented that the 1973 Knicks had been somewhat overlooked compared with '70 "because of the hoopla with Willis [Reed] and the way he came out in Game 7, and we won it at home."

When I asked which team was better, he said without hesitation it was 1973, a deeper, more versatile squad. One of the biggest reasons was sitting beside him: Earl Monroe.

The occasion was a luncheon at Frazier's restaurant, Clyde Frazier's Wine & Dine, near the Garden at which the former backcourt mates watched parts of that title-clinching 102-93 victory at the Forum on May 10, 1973.

Both men acknowledged it was a somewhat surreal experience to watch their far younger selves sometimes play less well than memory suggested, but well enough to dethrone the defending champs.

Said Monroe: "When you think back on the game, you don't [remember] all the mistakes that were made . . . But the reason we won is we just had better players."


The Knicks' balanced roster featured Monroe, Frazier, Reed, Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere, Jerry Lucas, Dean Meminger and Phil Jackson. Monroe, Bradley, Frazier and Reed all scored at least 18 points in Game 5. The fading Lakers still had Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain, whose dunk for the series' final points marked the last basket of his career.

The fact that video of the finale exists at all is a minor miracle. MSG discovered it in the possession of a collector. It had been recorded on Cartrivision, an early version of a VCR that was marketed for only about a year.

The video was in terrible shape and had to be carefully restored by DuArt, a New York production company, which needed a rare Cartrivision unit simply to play the tape.

MSG will show a one-hour special about the recording at 7 p.m. Sunday, followed by the game itself.

The picture quality is far from perfect, but it is a treat for both basketball and TV historians, from ABC's corny opening for the 10:30 p.m. game to the no-frills camera work and laid-back announcing by Keith Jackson and Bill Russell.

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Frazier noted the lack of crowd shots, absence of "dancing girls" and general lack of peripheral elements.

The most glaring basketball differences compared with 2013 are the frantic pace -- "the shot clock was irrelevant; you just played and ran up and down," Frazier said -- and the importance of mid-range jump shots.

The postgame coverage is a gem, with Bob Wolff and Russell interviewing several Knicks, including a shirtless Frazier. "I don't know what happened to my shirt!" he said as he chuckled at his younger image.

Soon Frazier was off to a celebratory party whose location he could not remember. Monroe said he and Meminger simply went back to their hotel room and ordered room service.

No need to get too worked up. Surely they'd be back again someday soon, right?

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