The New York Knicks have a long history that goes back to 1946 and predates the NBA. In the ensuing 75-plus years the franchise has existed, there have been ups and downs, which have included two NBA titles. And while these two championship squads will be on the list of greatest Knicks teams of all time, so will teams loaded with all-time great players that got close but couldn’t quite bring home the trophy. With that in mind, here are the 10 best Knicks teams in history, ranked.
The first team in these Knicks team rankings is a squad that bridged the gap between two eras. This Jeff Van Gundy-coached group featured a 37-year-old Patrick Ewing, Latrell Spreewell, Allen Houston, Larry Johnson, and Charlie Ward, all in their late 20s (Johnson was 30), and some youngsters in Marcus Camby and John Wallace.
The group went 50-32 in the regular season following a season that ends up lower in this greatest Knicks teams list. They then beat Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, their old friend, Charles Oakley, and the Toronto Raptors in Round 1 before dispatching their nemesis, Alonzo Mourning, and the Miami Heat in Round 2.
That seven-game series took a toll, though, and the Knicks just couldn’t get past Reggie Miller and his 34-point Game 7 to move on to the NBA Finals.
The 1980s weren’t great for New York basketball. In fact, this is the only team from this era on the list of best Knicks teams in history.
Still, this team was good and fun to watch, thanks to one of the great pure scorers in NBA history, Bernard King. The Knicks forward poured in 26.3 points per game that season, and a young Bill Cartwright added 17.0.
This team also featured several fan favorites like Louis Orr from the Syracuse Orange and New York and New Jersey high school products Len Elmore, Ernie Grunfeld, Rory Sparrow, and Ray Williams. Unfortunately, coach Hubie Brown and his team couldn’t make it past Larry Brid’s Boston Celtics in the second round.
The only squad on this greatest Knicks teams in history list from the last 20 years came in the 2012-23 NBA season.
This was the best Carmelo Anthony team, which finished the regular season 54-28, winning the Atlantic Division and coming in (a distant) second place in the East to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and the Miami Heat.
This was Anthony, JR Smith, and Amar’e Stoudamire’s team with an incredible supporting cast filled with veterans like Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, Tyson Chandler, Earl Barron, Kenyon Martin, and Rasheed Wallace, along with youngster Iman Shumpert.
These Knicks beat the Boston Celtics in the opening round of the playoffs before being upset by Paul George and the Indiana Pacers. This was the story of most of the Knicks teams from this era. They got it done in the regular season, but postseason success eluded them.
Legendary Knicks head coach Red Holzman took over from Dick Maguire after the team started 15-23 in the 1967-68 season. He took that team to the playoffs, and in the next campaign, Holzman led his group to the franchise’s first Conference Finals since the early 1950s.
What is most notable about this 1968-69 team is that it had the bones of the Knicks’ future championship teams.
Willis Reed, Cazzie Russell, Dick Barnett, Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, and Bill Bradley would go on to become NBA champions the next season (on one of the best Knicks teams on this list), and this is the season where it started to all come together.
One of the two 60-win New York teams in history, the 1992-93 team is another prelude to one of the greatest Knicks teams ever. It was Pat Riley’s second season in the Big Apple, and this tough, physical squad was a preview of what was to come in the 90s at Madison Square Garden.
Like the teams before it, this was led by Patrick Ewing and John Starks. The big difference between this side and the ones that came before it, though, is that Riley got rid of several veteran forwards like Xavier McDaniels, Gerald Wilkins, and Kiki Vandeweghe to open up more time for his two enforcers, Anthony Mason and Charles Oakley.
With those moves, the team stayed exactly at 101.6 points per game, but their already-stellar defense improved from second-best to best in the league.
Unfortunately, the team ultimately ran into a problem that would hurt them again and again in this era, losing to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bills in the Eastern Conference Finals.
This is the earliest Knicks team in the rankings here, but one that should not be forgotten. This squad was the third New York team in a row to make it to the NBA Finals and lose (once to the Rochester Royals and twice to George Mikan’s Minneapolis Lakers).
Coach Joe Lapchick did a phenomenal job getting this group — the Buffalo Bills of the NBA — back to the promised land each year after the heartbreaking losses.
The 1952-53 squad featured three Basketball Hall of Fame players (Carl Braun, Harry Gallatin, Dick Maguire), a future Hall of Fame coach (Dick’s brother, Al Maguire), and a HOF contributor (Nat Clifton, one of the first Black NBA players and a Harlem Globetrotter).
While these players may not be household names to today’s fans, they are some of the greats in Knicks history and, as such, belong on this prestigious list.
These final four teams in the Knicks team rankings here all made the NBA Finals. However, both teams that got that far in the 1990s infamously couldn’t close the deal.
This 1998-99 squad was the last gasp of the Patrick Ewing Era in New York City. The Hoya Destroya was 36 during this run, and while he led the team with 17.3 points per game, it was the first time in his NBA career he didn’t average over 20 points.
Still, Jeff Van Gundy’s squad was deeper and more talented than any other team in Ewing’s career, save for possibly the next group on this best Knicks teams list.
Latrell Sprewell, Allan Houston, Larry Johnson, Kurt Thomas, Charlie Ward, and Marcus Camby were all in their mid-to-late-20s primes, and like so many of the greatest Knicks teams before them, they were built on defense and timely scoring.
Best of all, Michael Jordan was out of the league at this point, and the Knicks cruised to the Finals with an 11-4 record in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
This was a team of destiny in the lockout-shortened season that finally seemed poised to win it all right up until the NBA Finals. That’s when New York ran into a Tim Duncan and David Robinson-led San Antonio Spurs team that was just about to start a dynastic run of four titles in the next nine seasons and five in 15 years.
There are two teams in Knicks history that won a title, and those are the ones at the top of the greatest Knicks teams list. That means that the 1993-94 side is the best team in franchise history not to bring home the trophy.
This was Patrick Ewing, John Starks, Charles Oakley, and Anthony Mason in their primes. And this Pat Riley unit also got crucial contributions from tough and tested veterans like Doc Rivers, Charles Smith, Greg Anthony, Derek Harper, and Hubert Davis.
These Knicks went 57-25 and finished second in the East behind Dominque Wilkins and the Atlanta Hawks. And, stop me if you’ve heard this before (many times) earlier in these Knicks team rankings, but this group finished 21st in the league in points for and first in points allowed.
With MJ riding the bus in minor league baseball, these Knicks took out the New Jersey Nets, Chicago Bulls, and Indiana Pacers, with the last two series each going seven games. However, when Ewing and Starks ran into Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler in the NBA Finals, they came up just short, as usual.
Finally, we get to the winners! While the first eight teams on this Knicks team rankings list couldn’t quite get over the hump, two of Red Holzman’s squads in the 1970s did win the chip. And while two NBA titles may not seem like a huge number, you need to remember that only 11 NBA franchises have multiple championships.
There is a lot to discuss with this team. We could talk about how it’s the first 60-win team in franchise history. Or how they beat one of the best teams in league history that included Hall of Famers Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, and Jerry West.
However, let’s be honest. This team is remembered for one thing: The Willis Reed Game.
In Game 7 at Madison Square Garden, a severely injured Reed walked onto the court to the shock of Knicks fans. He scored the first two baskets of the game, shut down Chamberlain for a half, and left with a 61-37 lead and a championship nearly guaranteed. Walt “Clyde” Frazier took care of the rest, dropping 36 and bringing the Big Apple its first NBA title.
The 1972-73 squad has a few advantages over the 1969-70 team that puts them No. 1 in the all-time Knicks team rankings, despite winning three fewer regular season games than its predecessor.
This team was better defensively, allowing just 92.8 points per game, Phil Jackson was back from the back injury that kept him out of the 1969-70 campaign, and this team had Earl “The Pearl” Monroe in the backcourt with Frazier to create one of (if not) the best guard combo in NBA history.
Plus, in addition to beating the Lakers again in the Finals, they also went seven with the John Havlicek, Dave Cowens Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference title and prevailed. And with Frazier, Reed, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley, and Dick Barnett still left over from the previous championship squad, this was the most talented Knicks team in history.