January 19th 1987: The New York Knicks host their first MLK day game
President Ronald Reagan passed historic legislation in 1983 to mark the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr Day as a national holiday. The law stated to observe MLK Day on the third Monday in January, which would then land approximately around MLK’s actual birthday of January 15th. The United States observed MLK Day for the first time in 1986.
A year later, the New York Knicks hosted the Boston Celtics for their first ever MLK Day game matinee. To the pleasure of many fans, the Knicks upset the defending champion Celtics 111-109. The duo of Patrick Ewing and Bill Cartwright led the team with 66 combined points. The Knicks had a 12 point lead with less than 6 minutes remaining.
However, Larry Bird led a comeback and tied the game with seconds remaining. Louis Orr dribbled down the court and hit the game winning bank shot inside the 3 point line to give the Knicks the upset victory. The shot was #24 on the top 25 game winning shots in Knicks history as shown in the video below:
Since that game, the Knicks started a tradition to play on MLK day. To this date, the team is 20-12 on the historic holiday.
Knicks Film School Historian, amongst other things