The New York Knicks’ rise to NBA dominance in the early 1970s was a long road. Willis Reed and Walt Bellamy instigated the moribund franchise’s slow rise in the mid-1960s. Walt Frazier was brought on board in the 1967-68 season. Coach Red Holzman joined the gang midway through that season. The club proved to be a moderate success with their first winning record in a decade.
Frazier and Reed would go on to form the dynamic core of the team, but Bellamy was sent packing halfway through the 1968-69 season to Detroit. In return the Knicks received All-Star power forward Dave DeBusschere. Dave allowed Reed to play his natural center position full time, while also giving him the room to be highly effective.
For the previous six seasons, DeBusschere had starred in Detroit as a versatile forward who languished on a generally awful franchise. Averaging 16 points and 11 rebounds from 1963 to 1968, DeBusschere was three-times an All-Star with the Pistons. He possessed a dazzling intellect for the game and also had a sparkling long-range jumper, which took advantage of plodding lazy opponents. Best of all with DeBusschere, though, was his dogged, determined defense. He could lock up and shut down the opposing team’s best forward night after night.
His team-first orientation, and status as a Detroit native, propelled Pistons management to make Dave the Pistons player-coach during the 1964-65 season. Being just 24 years old, this made DeBusschere the youngest coach in NBA history. In the end, though, this was just another in a long list of boneheaded moves by Pistons management. A man so young, with so little experience, couldn’t justify being coach.
All these years of pain in Detroit (just two postseason appearances and no winning seasons) vanished for DeBusschere with that trade to New York. His tenacious rebounding, soft shooting touch, and sticky defense fit perfectly with the Knicks who never failed to reach at least the Eastern Conference Finals during his 5.5 seasons with the team.
When DeBusschere retired after the 1974 season, he did so after averaging career-highs in PPG, APG, FG% and FT%, and had just made his sixth straight All-Defensive 1st Team appearance. Sure he was 33-years old and felt it was time to go, but you can’t help but suspect Dave had some gas left in the tank. But apparently eight all-star games and two NBA titles were enough for him.
Can’t argue with that, I suppose.
Seasons Played: 1963 – 1974
2x Champion (1970, 1973)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1969)
6x All-Defensive 1st Team (1969-’74)
8x All-Star (1966-’68, 1970-’74)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1963)
NBA - 875 Games
16.1 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 2.9 APG, 43.2% FG, 69.9% FT
Contemporary NBA Ranks (1963 – 1974)
8th FGs Made, 23rd FTs Made
7th Rebounds, 20th Assists
9th Games Played, 7th Minutes Played