On This Date: Knicks draft Lonnie Shelton – with some controversy

June 8th 1976: The New York Knicks draft Lonnie Shelton, but had to clear some loopholes in order to sign him

In the 1976 NBA Draft, the New York Knicks attracted some minor controversy after drafting Oregon State Junior Lonnie Shelton with the 25th pick (2nd round). At the time, the NBA was in discussions to merge with the American Basketball Association (ABA) but the terms were not final.

Shelton originally declared for the ABA draft in 1975 as a sophomore in college. The Memphis Sounds drafted him, but the team folded shortly before the season was to begin. His rights transferred to the Spirits of St. Louis and he ill-advisedly signed a contract with the team without having any intention to play for the team. Shelton never played for the ABA team and instead returned to Oregon State. However, a federal judge ruled that his eligibility was lost. The Spirits planned to relocate to Utah for the 1976-77 season to become the Utah Rockies

By the 1976 NBA Draft, the ABA-NBA merger was near finalization. 4 of the ABA teams (Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New York Nets, San Antonio Spurs) joined the NBA and the remaining two teams (Kentucky Colonels & Spirits of St. Louis) eventually folded. Shelton had undergone a lawsuit against the Spirits regarding the enforcement of his contract. The courts ruled that Shelton wasn’t officially signed with the team, but he did lose his college rights. The impending contract litigation led to many teams ignoring him, but the Knicks did their homework and drafted him in the 2nd round.

As for the 2 ABA teams that folded, the respective players were drafted in a supplementary dispersal draft in August 1976. The Knicks drafted Randy Denton in that dispersal draft.

Shelton was the Knicks’ first draft selection. The team forfeited their 1st round pick after the George McGinnis saga the year before. Shelton had a solid first two seasons with the Knicks, but was traded to the Seattle Supersonics as part of a compensation package in signing Marvin “Human Eraser” Webster as a free agent. Shelton eventually won an NBA championship with the Sonics in 1979.

As for the compensation package, the Knicks additionally sent over a 1979 1st round pick (via the Nets from acquiring Phil Jackson) and received a 1981 1st round pick in return. The Sonics used the 1979 1st round pick to draft Vinnie Johnson. The 1981 1st round pick eventually was traded in a three-way deal where the Knicks acquired Campy Russell.

On This Date: Knicks almost sign George McGinnis, to only have the NBA invalidate the offer sheet

May 30th 1975: The New York Knicks ALMOST signed ABA Star George McGinnis, until the NBA intervened

In one of the strangest moments in Knicks Free Agency history, the New York Knicks tried to sign ABA Star George McGinnis to a 6 year/$3.1M offer sheet. McGinnis was the consensus star, alongside Julius Erving, of the American Basketball Association (ABA) and played for the Indiana Pacers. He led the league in scoring in the previous season and was an integral piece to the Pacers’ championship trophies in 1972 & 1973.

However, the Philadelphia 76ers drafted McGinnis in 1973. He remained in the ABA while the 76ers retained his draft rights. After the 1973-74 season, McGinnis attempted to play in the NBA, but only for the New York Knicks. The 76ers gave the Knicks 30 days to convince him to sign with the team. However, McGinnis decided to return to Indianapolis.

Fast forward one season and McGinnis showed interest in returning to the NBA. However, the 76ers were less inclined to allow McGinnis to sign with the Knicks. Despite the warnings, the Knicks offered him a 6 year/$3.1M deal. Iry Kozloff, then owner of the 76ers, accused the Knicks of violating the NBA constitution and demanded that the league rescind the contract.

Then-new commissioner Larry O’Brien reviewed the 76ers case and ruled the contract invalid. Additionally, the Knicks forfeited their 1976 1st round pick and had to pay the 76ers legal fees as part of the punishment.

This was one of the earliest cases of tampering in the NBA, but was probably known as one of the strangest moments in Knicks history.