The New York Knicks have one of the better histories among NBA franchises for the talent at the center position. Most notable—not even a spoiler alert or anything—was franchise tentpole Patrick Ewing, the first overall pick in the inaugural lottery for the 1985 NBA Draft.
While Ewing and the Knicks never won a championship, his presence down low set a tone for the organization during his 15-year stint in the Big Apple.
Here are four other greatest centers in Knicks history, starting with a recent addition.
5. Tyson Chandler
Tyson Chandler joined the Knicks during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 NBA season, arriving via a three-team trade which included Andy Rautins. Arriving on the heels of a championship victory with the Dallas Mavericks, Chandler made an immediate impact for Mike D’Antoni’s Knicks defense, solidifying the frontcourt with an imposing and intimidating shot-blocker in the paint.
While Chandler’s exit from New York was a bit dicey (injuries prevented his 2013-14 season from ever really lifting off), the former second-overall pick of the 2001 draft proved to be a vital piece of a brief competitor built for the Knicks, which included pairing with Carmelo Anthony, JR Smith, and more.
Chandler was an All-Star alongside Anthony during the 2012-13 season, which saw the Knicks reach the second round of the playoffs, the last time they earned a postseason spot. Chandler was also the Defensive Player of the Year in his first season with New York.
4. Harry Gallatin
Harry “The Horse” Gallatin was one of the earliest stars in the then-BAA and later NBA, joining the Knicks in 1948 and becoming an All-Star in his third season in 1951.
During his nine-year career in New York, Gallatin was a supreme rebounder, leading the league in that category once and routinely averaging double digits in boards. Gallatin owns the franchise record in consecutive games played (610), all while becoming a seven-time All-Star in the early days of professional basketball and Knickerbocker hoops.
3. Bill Cartwright
Before he was traded for the Chicago Bulls’ Charles Oakley to mark a new era in franchise history, Bill Cartwright was the proto–Patrick Ewing, soaking up the spotlight as a young and effective center for the Knicks.
Cartwright, the third overall pick for New York in the 1979 NBA Draft, was selected to the All-Star Game in his rookie season (his only appearance). Moreover, if injuries didn’t derail his Knicks tenure, he would have averaged 20.0 points or close to it for at least five seasons.
Before Cartwright took a back seat to Ewing, the University of San Francisco product averaged 17.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game over the course of his first five seasons with the Knicks. Cartwright later won three championships during the Bulls’ first three-peat run, while Oakley turned into a capable power forward pair with Ewing at center in New York’s frontcourt.
2. Willis Reed
It’s difficult to suggest a two-time champion, NBA MVP, one-time All-Star Game MVP, and two-time Finals MVP should not be considered the best center in franchise history, but it’s simply not the case for Willis Reed and the Knicks.
Ewing was “better” by strict definition—but, of course, Reed won the only titles in the team’s history en route to his number getting retired by the Knicks.
The eighth overall pick of the 1964 NBA Draft out of Grambling State, Reed was the Rookie of the Year and young star in New York for the then-struggling Knicks. Before all the pieces came together (including Walt Frazier, Dick Barnett, and Bill Bradley), Reed was the steady workhorse for the ‘Bockers.
Reed was a seven-time All-Star. In his 10 years with the Knicks, he gave his body along with being the heart and soul of the late-’60s, early-’70s championship-caliber teams.
1. Patrick Ewing
Ewing is the best center in Knicks history.
Despite the lack of titles—they came oh-so-close in 1994, losing in seven to the Houston Rockets after going up 3-2—Ewing was a mainstay anchoring the paint (and with a pretty jumper and outside range early in his professional career) for 15 seasons.
An 11-time All-Star and Rookie of the Year, Ewing was the face of the franchise and, like Reed, had his number retired following the end of his playing career. The former Georgetown Hoya returned to the Big East institution as head coach in recent years, teaching the next generation.
For a generation or two of Knicks fans, though, Ewing was the closest thing towards the hope of another championship, if it wasn’t for other greats standing in their way like Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon.