The New York Knicks team that featured Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Bill Bradley, Willis Reed, and Dave DeBusschere was no dynasty. The Knicks won championships in 1970, 1973, and that was that. But in his new book, When the Garden Was Eden, Harvey Araton contends that those Knicks gave fans “a symbol of harmony” that was especially necessary at that time. Harvey Araton joins Bill for a conversation about his new book.
Bill’s Thoughts on When The Garden Was Eden
Maybe the New York Knicks teams that won NBA Championships in 1970 and 1973 provided a fractured America with an important demonstration of how well white men and black men could work together to achieve something.
Maybe basketball players (or any other pro athletes) making a relatively large amount of money while winning games are inclined to get along well, no matter what’s afoot outside the arena.
Which position you embrace probably depends on the level of skepticism you bring to matters more significant than pro basketball.
But it can certainly be argued that those Knicks teams of the early ’70’s were exceptional in several respects. Compared to their opponents, they were small. They had no Wilt Chamberlin and no Kareem Abdul Jabbar. They had Willis Reed. They were also unusual in terms of the individual accomplishments of the players: Bill Bradley was a Rhodes Scholar who became a U.S. Senator; Phil Jackson became an enormously successful NBA coach known for his counter-cultural bent and his inscrutable, Zen-like one-liners; Jerry Lucas demonstrated on late-night TV that he’d memorized a fair portion of the Manhattan phone directory; Walt Frazier invented an alter-ego named “Clyde,” which he draped in fur. Now he’s a prosperous landlord in St. Croix, where fur would just be silly.
Like various manifestations of the Boston Celtics over several decades, those Knicks teams demonstrated how much fun it can be to watch basketball when it’s played as a team game. As Harvey Araton writes in When The Garden Was Eden, “by today’s standards” those Knicks were “insanely small and startlingly white.” The author maintains that they also represented “the game distilled to near perfection.” A case for the same achievement can be made for various other teams, though most of them were built around a star such as Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlin, or Magic Johnson. The Knicks teams about which Araton is writing really did seem to represent more than the sum of their parts, and of course it didn’t hurt that they were playing in New York.
Most basketball fans will enjoy When the Garden Was Eden. Those who grew up near New York City at a time when those Knicks teams were flourishing will enjoy it even more, and that constitutes the disclaimer with which I probably should have begun this review.