Bill Bradley dribbles past a young Dirk Nowitzki in 1970 (Getty Images)
Apologies for yet another column discussing the merits of the Miami Heat, but there’s an interesting confluence of events happening right now in NBA circles. Several members of the 1972-73 New York Knicks are coming out of the woodwork in anticipation of Friday night’s ceremony honoring the team at the Madison Square Garden. It’s true that several of the team’s members have long had very visible jobs in the public eye – Willis Reed and the late Dave DeBusschere as team executives, Phil Jackson as a legendary coach, Walt Frazier as New York’s colorful TV analyst – but NBAniks are still giddy at the prospect of one of the unique teams in NBA history returning for one night to talk up the league they took two championships from.
Former Knick forward and former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley walked away from public life after failing short in his bid to earn the Democratic nomination for President in 2000. Since then he’s mostly remained mum on not only the political scene, refusing to trot himself out as a talking head for the various cable station chatfests, but also in discussion of the league he played for from 1967 to 1977. That’s changed now, as Bradley talks with Marc Berman of the Post, in anticipation of Miami’s potential second championship, and Tuesday night’s contest between the Knicks and the Heat:
“Miami won last year because they played as a team,’’ Bradley said. “They were unselfish. There’s a connection there. I really do believe LeBron, [Dwyane] Wade and [Chris] Bosh and [Shane] Battier, they really want to be champions more than they want individual achievements. They realize being a champion is the highest individual achievement.’’
Has [Carmelo] Anthony learned that yet?
“He’s a great offensive talent, no question,’’ Bradley said. “I don’t know him enough. I don’t know if he has. I hope so. And he might already know it.
“For him and for all the players, I hope they win a championship,’’ Bradley added. “There’s nothing like that experience in New York. At the end of the day, no one player ever thought he was as good as all five of us working together. And that was true of Phil Jackson’s Bulls and Lakers and of Miami.”
Carmelo Anthony on Sunday (Getty Images)
It’s true that, just five months into the team’s title defense, that we are possibly overrating the Heat. It’s also true that the team is coming off of a 27-game winning streak, and well on its way toward a third Finals appearance and potential second title.
That’s as many titles as those legendary Knick teams earned, either overcoming or falling to luminaries from Los Angeles, Boston, Milwaukee, or Baltimore along the way. Throughout the 2010-11 season and for most of the 2011-12 season we criticized Miami for its inability to work as anything more than a “my turn/your turn”-team. But now they’ve happened upon the theory that made those Knicks teams so wonderful to watch:
That theory, even with Knick center Tyson Chandler out, will be put to an extreme test on Tuesday evening.
Miami will once again be working without LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and while the Heat did well to beat the Spurs in a close one on Sunday, the Knicks have already beaten Miami (by a combined 40 points) with the Big Three in action, and lost a contested one to Miami early in March. And though the game is in Miami, it’s very possible that Raymond Felton rises to the occasion after needlessly needling Mario Chalmers last week.
Defending the three-point line (a line Bradley once on record wished didn’t exist in the modern NBA, due to what he saw as spacing concerns during the slow-down era of the late 1990s), was a problem for Miami in the team’s first two losses to New York. The Knicks shot a ridiculous 37-80, 46 percent, from behind the arc. That mark fell to 8-29, 27 percent, in Miami’s most recent win over the Knicks, but though the Heat have improved to the NBA’s ninth-best team in defending the trey of late, New York could always pick it back up.
Of course, if New York misses out on playing the Heat in next month’s second or third round, none of this could matter. The Knicks may not be able to find a way to find their own brand of gestalt theory if Chicago or Indiana gets in the way first.
Whatever the outcome, it’s nice to have the former senator back around and talking hoops again. Don’t be a stranger, Bill Bradley.
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