On This Date: Knicks play on MLK Day for the first time

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.

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On This Date: Bernard King returns after a 2 year absence from his devastating knee injury

April 10th 1987: Bernard King returns after a 2 year absence due to injury

Bernard King received a rousing ovation from the MSG faithful in his return to the basketball court against the Milwaukee Bucks. King missed more than 2 years recovering from a torn ACL, torn knee cartilage, and a broken leg bone.

Although the Bucks trounced the Knicks 132-93, King scored 7 points off the bench in 23 minutes of action. He spent the next game coming off the bench before returning to the starting lineup. King averaged nearly 23 points/game in the final 6 games of the 1986-87 season.

Sadly, Knicks fans never saw King & Patrick Ewing play together. Ewing was out for the remainder of the 1986-87 season after suffering a sprained left knee. After the season, the Knicks decided not to sign King to a new contract. There were various theories to why the Knicks refused to sign King, including feeling disappointed King was away from the team during his rehabilitation, fear of loss of athleticism, age, and preference to move in a rebuilding mode. None of those theories seemed to make sense at the time or in hindsight.

King nearly fully recovered from his injury to have 3 straight 20 ppg seasons with the Washington Bullets (including a remarkable 28.4 ppg in the 1989-90 season). The Knicks ultimately drafted Mark Jackson that began a stretch of 14 straight seasons in the playoffs. At the same time, the Knicks had a void at SF and even had to trade a 1st round pick to fill its need (Kiki Vandeweghe). It makes me wonder whether the Knicks should have just ponied up to keep him.

On This Date: Gerald Wilkins outscores MJ

March 6th 1987: Gerald Wilkins outscored Michael Jordan in a rare feat during the 1986-87 season

In a rare feat during the 1986-87 season, Gerald Wilkins outscored Michael Jordan 33-31 to help the Knicks defeat the Bulls 110-109 in Chicago. Patrick Ewing scored 31 points and hit the go-ahead basket with 8 seconds left. Ultimately it was Jawann Oldham, acquired by the Knicks from the Bulls before the season, who blocked Jordan’s final shot attempt to preserve the victroy.

Wilkins’ feat was impressive as it was only the 2nd time that a guard outscored MJ and only the 7th person overall to do so during the season. MJ averaged 37.1 points/game during the 1986-87 season, a feat only Wilt Chamberlain topped, Kobe Bryant nearly reached, and one that James Harden could potentially eclipse. It was impressive for any player to outscore MJ that season.

Wilkins was also on a torrid scoring streak, averaging nearly 28 points a game over his last 11 games. He went on to average over 19 points a game during the 1986-87 season. While not as flashy as his brother Dominique, Gerald did spend a few seasons participating in the dunk contest and was often the starting SG during his tenure with the Knicks.

His tough matchups unexpectedly, according to Wilkins, gave him the nickname of “Jordan Stopper” when the Cleveland Cavaliers signed him before the 1992-93 season. MJ outdueled Wilkins in the 1993 NBA Playoffs in what amounted to be their last playoff matchup against each other.