December 8, 1987: Bernard Kings makes his first visit to MSG as a member of the Washington Bullets
Bernard King returned to Madison Square Garden for the first time as a Washington Bullet. The Knicks got the last laugh in a 116-92 blowout victory. King came off the bench to score 19 points in 32 minutes.
Patrick Ewing & Bill Cartwright combined for 52 points and simply overpowered the Bullets’ frontcourt. Mark Jackson nearly had a triple double with 8 points, 8 rebounds, and 11 assists.
King missed the entire 1985-86 season and all but 6 games of the 1986-87 season recovering from the torn ACL. In the 6 games, King averaged 22.7 points a game and shot nearly 50% from the field.
However, the Knicks decided against re-signing Bernard King in the summer of 1987 for various reasons. At the time, the Knicks were afraid that King wouldn’t fully recover from the knee surgery. At the same time, the front office didn’t like that King did most of his rehabilitation away from the team and barely attended games during the stretch. Furthermore, the Knicks committed to rebuilding with Patrick Ewing, Mark Jackson, & Kenny Walker, amongst others, and thought that King would be a deterrence to the development process.
Despite the Knicks’ qualms, King was able to make a near-full recovery and had several productive seasons after his Knicks tenure. He made the 1991 All Star team and averaged 28.4 points/game that season, including a 49 point effort against the Knicks.
The Knicks had a short stint of success in the Rick Pitino era and spent a lot of effort looking for small forwards after King’s departure. Perhaps Bernard King would have made a difference.
December 8, 2001: Jeff Van Gundy unexpectedly quits
In a day that marked the downward spiral of the New York Knicks in the 2000s, Jeff Van Gundy (JVG) abruptly resigned after a 10-9 record to start the season. The team won 5 of their last 6 games heading into the resignation.
He was known as one of the hardest working coaches in the league. Many of his former assistant coaches currently coaching in the NBA possess the same traits as him. Six + years of coaching at high intensity took a toll on Van Gundy and his family. JVG, then 39, was married with a 6 year old daughter and often longed to spend more time with his family.
JVG felt he was losing the team as early as the 2000-01 season, the same reason the Knicks traded Ewing. The team wasn’t playing with the same intensity that they were reputed for during the 90s. He often questioned the team’s effort and publicly stated that the team was “mailing it in” during some of the games.
Additionally, Van Gundy dealt with tragedy close to home as two of his close friends, Farrell Lynch & Bill Minardi, were killed in the September 11th attacks. The culmination of events leading up to the season were tough to overcome.
JVG left the Knicks with a 248-172 record. He spent nearly 7 years as an assistant coach under Stu Jackson, John MacLeod, Pat Riley, & Don Nelson. As a head coach, he led the Knicks to an unexpected NBA Finals run in 1999. Despite the success, he was nearly fired on multiple occasions and dealt with a highly publicized feud with GM Ernie Grunfeld that led to the latter’s dismissal. Furthermore, he outlasted both Patrick Ewing and Dave Checketts, leaving him with few allies internally in the organization.
Don Chaney took over for JVG as interim coach. It’s safe to say the Knicks never recovered after his resignation during the decade. Likewise, JVG has admitted that he shouldn’t have resigned.