The 1969-70 New York Knicks team holds a special place in the memory banks of fans who grew up in the era. Red Holzman’s guys were the first New York “winter” team to win a championship since 1940 and there were a raft of books written both immediately after that year as well as in the next few years. Most either involved the team starters or the team as a whole but other than Phil Jackson’s photo-essay book, the bench players were rarely given their due. The Phil Jackson rookie card from 1972-73 and the Dave Stallworth rookie card from 1969-70 are certainly worth collecting, even if you’re not a Knicks fan.
The Knicks did win two NBA Championships during that period with basically the same personnel. One player actually served as an assistant coach during the first title run and was a player during the second run. Who could have known that the young Jackson, learning every night from Red, would later become the coach with the most NBA championships?
We were reminded of all of this when Phil “Action” Jackson as he was known during his playing career returned to the New York Knicks recently as president of basketball operations. Almost 50 years after he joined the organization, Jackson has returned to attempt to bring the Knicks back to those glory days. Jackson was always a fun player to watch as his specialty was as a defensive stopper because of his height and his long reach. He always looked a bit gangly on the court but I still remember him scoring 30 points on a couple of occasions and we always wondered how he was able to get anything done
Of course, in between those Topps cards and today he did coach some of the greatest NBA players such as Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Jackson appears in the Skybox and Hoops sets, among the few to picture NBA coaches.
NBA executives usually don’t get cards printed although as members of the league it would be a neat aspect if we would see cards of these people. After all, who would not want another Jerry West or Michael Jordan card with their involvement or even more coach cards of Hall of Fame players such as Kevin McHale? As for me, I’d certainly be interested in a Phil Jackson card as that would bring his card career full circle back to where he started way back the 1960s.
And, of course, there were some interesting stories along the way such as Donnie May and Bill Hosket who were high school basketball teammates and were reunited on the Knicks bench along with Nate Bowman who was a big backup center who many not have been a good NBA player but was beloved by fans. In some ways Bowman was a precursor in New York love to Hawthorne Nathaniel Wingo who was a beloved Knick in the mid 1970’s. But seeing the Wichita State Shockers have so much recent success on the college level reminded me of Dave (The Rave) Stallworth, who came out of Wichita State and played an important role, along with Cazzie Russell as one of the key back-up forwards for that Knick team. His rookie card is in the 1969-70 Topps basketball set.
What made Stallworth’s story more intriguing was his return from a 1967 heart attack. Stallworth fortunately never had a recurrence of his health issues during his career and did last several more seasons in the NBA, but to fans, his biggest year was 1969-70 when he both returned from his heart ailment and played on an NBA championship team.