This Big Three business is nothing new to the New York Knicks. Matter of fact, in typical Big Apple fashion, the Knicks have done it before and done it extra. In the 1972-73 season they fielded a Big Five of Clyde Frazier, Earl Monroe, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley and Willis Reed. Throw in Jerry Lucas and Phil Jackson, and that’s seven Basketball Hall of Fame members on one roster. Their ’73 NBA championship was the last one for the Knicks franchise.
As today’s Knicks introduce a new Big Three — Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups — I got a chance to speak with two of the originals, Frazier and Monroe, about how they did it and what lies ahead:
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Dime: Do you think it’s good for the NBA to have superstars team up like they’ve done recently?
CF: No, because I think the teams these guys are leaving are teams that can barely compete now. Look at Cleveland: What are they doing now without LeBron? Look at Toronto without Chris Bosh. So it’s weakening the League in many ways. They’ve got to figure out something to combat it. It’s legal for players to move, but the League has to look at the big picture of what’s going on here.
Dime: What can the League do?
CF: That’s the question. There are too many weak teams and owners not making money. The League isn’t going to prosper. That was the essence of the Draft was to help the weak teams. Now they’ve negated the Draft with guys jumping like this. The Draft is not a factor.
Dime: Do you think it says something about the competitiveness of the players who choose to form these Big Threes and Big Fours?
CF: Well, yeah. It’s like Michael Jordan said, he never wanted to play with Bird and Magic, he wanted to play against them. Competition is what it’s all about. Trades happen, but to actually sit and conspire, I’m not with that. Earl (Monroe) came to us, but he came in a trade. I never talked to him about joining the Knicks before that. So when guys sit down and orchestrate it, I don’t think that’s right.
Dime: When you played on teams with multiple stars, how much did you have to set aside ego and stats to win?
CF: I didn’t really have to set aside anything because I was always a team player. I played defense and tried to take a minimum amount of shots. That was the way I liked to play.
Dime: Can Carmelo, Amar’e and Chauncey set their egos aside?
CF: They’re gonna have to in order to be successful. And they’re not done. They’ll still have rebounding woes, they’ll still have defensive woes, even with ‘Melo. They’ll have to shore those things up to be a championship team.
Dime: How valuable is it on a team like this to have a veteran point guard like Chauncey?
CF: Billups is the key man. He’s the X-factor. He has to orchestrate everything and get everybody involved. Yo look at Chauncey’s numbers and this is one of his worst season, but coming here hopefully he’ll rejuvenate his former grandeur.
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Dime: Just on a surface level, what does adding Carmelo and Chauncey to this team with Amar’e do for New York?
EM: They were starting to own the city already. I’m sure now with this addition, they’re going to really step it up. When you have this type of excitement — I mean, they’re playing Milwaukee and you can’t even get a ticket — when has that happened before? This is a great thing for the city. They’ve waited so long for this type of excitement to come about.
Dime: How long does it take for a team with so many new players to find its identity?
EM: With this team it’s a little different because they’re more of an up-and-down team. It’s not a hard thing to do in a system like this than if you were playing halfcourt basketball. With the basketball IQ’s these guys have, they can figure it out. Once you start winning you feel that chemistry and it’s a lot easier.
Dime: When you joined the Knicks in ’72, what was your adjustment period like?
EM: It’s funny because when I came in, back then when you got traded you’d try to just fit in. Today’s guys, they come in taking 25 shots on their first day. (Laughs) With these guys, because they’ve known each other and played with each other before, it’s a different type of scenario. They’ll have to sacrifice some on both sides, but together I think they’ll make into a very formidable team.
Dime: Do you think you and those ’70s Knicks kind of set the standard for this new era?
EM: I wouldn’t say that. You had Elgin Baylor and Jerry West in L.A., then Wilt Chamberlain joined them. You had the Celtics. So it had happened before. But it’s definitely a new era with these guys in New York, and then the guys going to Miami. Some of these teams will be very dominant, if not this year, then next year or in a couple of years. It’s all good for basketball.
Dime: Did you and Clyde talk and map out how you’d work together before you got on the court?
EM: We didn’t really talk about it. I tell people it’s funny because Clyde and I talk more now than we did when we played. We respected each other, and that was the basis of our relationship early on. I respected what he did, he respected what I did.
Dime: Do you think it says something about the competitiveness of today’s players who are teaming up like this?
EM: The thing is, one of the hardest things to do in this league is win championships. A lot times the measure of a guy’s career is winning championships, so if he can get to a situation where they have the right players to win a championship, his legacy will be well-received if they win.