February 1st 1973: Knicks sign Harthorne Wingo
The Knicks signed Harthorne Wingo, a Knick with one of the coolest names in team history. His most memorable moment as a Knick was winning the 1973 NBA Finals. Wingo served the role as the honorary 15th man who often received minutes in garbage time and heard the loudest cheers in Madison Square Garden. When he entered the game, he excited fans with highlight-reel dunks. Wingo didn’t play many minutes until the 1974-75 season where he averaged career highs in points (7.4), rebounds (5.6), and minutes (20.6).
Wingo’s story extends past the NBA. Originally from Tryon, North Carolina, Wingo moved to New York in 1968 to pursue his dream of basketball. He played in various city tournaments and leagues over the next 5 years. He spent parts of 4 years playing in the Harlem Rucker League in Rucker Park.
It was in those summer tournaments where Wingo made his name in both city folklore and within the Knicks organization. A couple scouts in the Knicks organization noticed him and recommended that he play for the Allentown Jets in the Eastern League (later known as the Continental Basketball Association). The Jets had an informal relationship with the Knicks that allowed the front office to treat the organization as a minor league squad to discover players and hone talent. Wingo led the Jets to a championship in 1971 and was named the MVP that season.
In between his stint with the Jets, Wingo toured with the Harlem Wizards. It was during his stint with the Wizards where the Knicks decided to sign him. Wingo spent 4 years in the NBA with the Knicks and an additional 4 years overseas.
Like many of the older retired NBA players, Wingo faced both financial and medical hardships after retirement. Additionally, Wingo went in a bout of of drug and alcohol abuse in the 1980s. Despite playing with legendary players such as Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Willis Reed, and Bill Bradley, he felt reluctant reaching out to them for help.
Despite some of the more recent difficulties, Knick fans will always remember Harthorne Wingo as one of the most fascinating 15th men in team history and a legend in New York City basketball.
Knicks Film School Historian, amongst other things