Former Knicks GM Al Bianchi passes away at the age of 87

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Former Knicks GM Al Bianchi passed away from natural causes today at the age of 87. He served as the team’s general manage from 1987-1991 and oversaw playoff teams during his entire tenure.

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On This Date: Knicks fire Al Bianchi and hire Dave Checketts

March 2nd 1991: Knicks fire Al Bianchi and hire Dave Checketts

In one of the most pivotal moves for the organization heading into the 1990s, the Knicks fired General Manager Al Bianchi and hired Dave Checketts as President of Basketball Operations. The firing was part of an overall organizational change within Madison Square Garden, the Knicks, and the New York Rangers.

Bianchi fell out of favor with Rick Pitino that led to the latter’s departure from the team to coach in the NCAA. Bianchi sparred with both Rod Strickland and Mark Jackson during his tenure. Strickland eventually requested and received a trade. He additionally declined to match Johnny Newman’s offer sheet from the Charlotte Hornets. Furthermore, Patrick Ewing was nearing free agency and reportedly was looking to sign elsewhere.

Checketts, then 35, initially began his NBA career as the youngest GM of the Utah Jazz at 28 years old. He spent several years with the Jazz and worked within the league offices before joining the Knicks. He became a pivotal executive in the organization tasked to maximize Patrick Ewing’s prime. One of Checkett’s first moves was hiring Pat Riley to replace John Macleod after the 1990-91 season. He later hired Ernie Grunfeld as his GM and helped oversee an organization that made the playoffs every year in the 1990s and reached the NBA finals twice.

Checketts eventually became president of Madison Square Garden in 1997 through 2001, shortly after James Dolan gained control of the organization.

On This Date: Knicks fire Stu Jackson

December 3, 1990: Knicks fire Stu Jackson and hire John Macleod as head coach

The Knicks fired Stu Jackson and hired John MacLeod to take over as head coach. Jackson was an assistant on Rick Pitino’s staff dating back to his days coaching the Providence men’s basketball team. Once Pitino left the Knicks for the University of Kentucky, the Knicks hired Stu Jackson as head coach, marking him the third youngest coach in Knicks history, at the time.1

Jackson led the Knicks to a 45-37 record in his first season and upset the Boston Celtics in the 1st round of the playoffs. The Knicks fired Jackson in the following season after his Knicks started the season 7-8, losing 5 of their last 6 games, and 3 straight games at home.

His offensive philosophy was more conservative and half court oriented, which marked a significant contrast from Pitino’s uptempo style. However, the personnel largely resembled what Pitino looked for in his system resulting in a disjointed level of play. Additionally, there was a lot of tension around the team during that season. There were reports that Stu Jackson sparred with his assistant coaches placed on the team by General Manager Al Bianchi to oversee his performance. The players, including Mark Jackson and Patrick Ewing, took issue with various things from playing time, contract situations, and even traveling up to Westchester to practice.

John MacLeod returned to the NBA after the Dallas Mavericks fired him in the previous season. MacLeod developed a relationship with Bianchi during their tenure with the Phoenix Suns. MacLeod led the Knicks to a 39-43 record and lost to the eventual NBA champion Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs.

Neither Bianchi or MacLeod lasted past the season.  The Knicks fired Bianchi in March 1991 and replaced by Dave Checketts. The team fired MacLeod after the regular season and subsequently hired Pat Riley as the new head coach. The rest is history.


December 3, 1968: Knicks beat Hawks by 33 points in Madison Square Garden

The New York Knicks handily beat the Atlanta Hawks 126-93 in Madison Square Garden. The Knicks had four players in double figures, including Dick Barnett (24 points), Walt “Clyde’ Frazier (20 points), Cazzie Russell (19 points), & Phil Jackson (15 points).

The win gave the Knicks their 11th win of the season (11-14). The team would eventually win 54 games and made the Eastern Division Semifinals under Red Holzman’s first full year as head coach of the team.

This game was the second of six matchups against the now-Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks moved to Atlanta from St. Louis beginning in the 1968-69 season. After refusing to remain in St. Louis, the team was sold to Atlanta-based real estate developer Tom Cousins and former Georgia governor Carl Sanders. Clyde Frazier grew up in Atlanta and finally got to play against his new home town team.