The New York Knicks may be the laughingstock of the NBA right now, and I understand that has been the case for the better part of the last two decades.
But there was a time when the Knicks were legitimately good.
New York only has a couple of championships to its name and has not hung a banner since 1973, but even in the years when the Knicks weren’t winning titles, they were very competitive.
As a result, New York developed multiple rivalries over the years.
Here are the top five rivals in Knicks history, with one honorable mention to boot:
Honorable mention: Los Angeles Lakers
The Knicks and Lakers met in the Finals three times between 1970 and 1973, with New York taking two of the three matchups.
Since then, the rivalry has calmed down quite a bit, as the two teams only play twice a year during the regular season and have not met in the finals since ’73, but the memories of those series still linger.
Who could forget Willis Reed limping out on to the court for Game 7 of the 1970 Finals, inspiring an incredible 36-point, 19-assist outing from Walt Frazier in what may very well have been the greatest Game 7 performance in NBA history. What makes it all the more compelling is that most people don’t talk about it, because the primary discussion from that game is centered around Reed’s heroic efforts.
To this day, that 1970 matchup is renowned as one of the greatest Finals in the history of the league.
You would think that a New York-Boston matchup would instantly be at the top of the rivalry list, but that just isn’t the case.
Yes, the Knicks and Celtics met 10 times in the playoffs between 1951 and 1983, but since then, they have just met just five times. Since 1991, they have only battled twice.
Overall, they have met 14 times in the postseason, with the teams splitting the meetings, but this isn’t Yankees-Red Sox. The rivalry has just never had that type of juice.
Perhaps the Knicks’ ineptitude of the last 20 years has clouded the rivalry somewhat, but when you think about Boston, you immediately think of the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers as its biggest rival. New York generally isn’t a club that comes to mind right off the bat.
Still, there is no denying that these two Atlantic Division foes have a rather extensive history.
Michael Jordan was drafted by the Bulls in 1984. From that point moving forward, Chicago and New York clashed in the playoffs six times, with the Bulls winning five of the matchups. And the only time the Knicks won? When Jordan was retired in 1994.
While the rivalry was largely one-sided, those postseason battles were still intense. Four of the six series went to at least six games, featuring a couple of seven-game series.
There was nothing like watching Jordan at Madison Square Garden, and let’s remember that back then, the game was a heck of a lot more physical. Jordan had to go through Knicks stalwarts like Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason and Xavier McDaniel, which any player today would shiver at the mere thought of doing.
Of course, MJ always got the best of them, and even though you pretty much knew the Bulls were always going to win, you can’t question just how electric those Bulls-Knicks matchups were.
3. Indiana Pacers
The Knicks collided with the Pacers six times in the playoffs between 1993 and 2000, creating a lifetime of memories for all NBA fans along the way.
One of the biggest highlights of the New York-Indiana rivalry came in 1995, when Reggie Miller scored eight points in 18.7 seconds to lead the Pacers to a Game 1 win and eventual series victory.
Everyone also remembers Miller’s constant animated discussions with Spike Lee at Madison Square Garden, with Miller famously flashing the choke sign to Lee in 1994.
Or how about in 1999, when Larry Johnson completed a four-point play in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals to send the Knicks to a thrilling win?
There were so many incredible moments throughout the battles between these two teams.
They split their six meetings from ’93 through 2000, and in 2013, the Pacers beat the Knicks in six games in the second round. That has been their only postseason matchup since.
2. Baltimore Bullets
A team that doesn’t even exist anymore? That’s right.
Well, the Baltimore Bullets technically do still exist. They are just the Washington Wizards now. But at lot of younger fans may not even be too familiar with the fact that this franchise once played in Baltimore.
Between 1969 and 1974, the Knicks and Bullets met in the playoffs six straight times. That’s right. Six.
Imagine if that happened in today’s game? Social media would burn down every postseason. Think about it: this happened back at a time when media exposure was at a minimum, so you couldn’t really get a genuine feel for how intense the rivalry really was.
Reed vs. Wes Unseld was a terrific clash in the paint, and what made things even more intriguing was that Earl Monroe, who played for the Bullets in each of the first three playoff meetings, was traded to the Knicks in November 1971, adding even more fuel to the fire.
New York largely dominated the rivalry, winning five of the six meetings, but these were tight matchups, with three of the series going the distance.
1. Miami Heat
There is definitely some recency bias involved here, but just about everyone is familiar with the Knicks-Heat rivalry in the ’90s.
From New York losing most of its roster due to suspensions from a brawl in 1997 to Jeff Van Gundy clinging to Alonzo Mourning’s leg during another brouhaha, this rivalry had it all.
The Knicks and Heat met in the playoffs four straight times between 1997 and 2000, with New York coming out on top in three of the series.
The most memorable moment certainly came in 1999, when the eighth-seeded Knicks stunned the Heat on a last-second shot by Allan Houston in the series-deciding Game 5, paving the way for New York’s Cinderella run to the finals.
These two teams genuinely did not like one another. Mourning and Larry Johnson in particular were mortal enemies. It was that heated.
Of course, the Knicks and Heat have only met in the playoffs once since then (2012), so this rivalry isn’t quite what it used to be. But anyone who was around in the ’90s knows how much this rivalry meant to the game of basketball.