The success of the 70’s Knicks was built around their legendary teamwork and unselfish play. The success of the 90’s Knicks was built squarely on defense and toughness. Over the years, that identity has resulted in some of the game’s toughest and most physical players donning the Orange & Blue Knickerbockers uniforms. Who is arguably one of the toughest NBA players ever? Charles Oakley is one of the first names you think of when you think 90’s Knick basketball. A fiercely competitive player that lived to bang bodies, Oak was a standout defender and outlet passer as well, but it was his all out hustle and toughness that endeared him to an entire city. During his tenure with the Knicks, no team was perceived to be tougher. However, Oakley was far from the only tough guy that wore a Knicks jersey.
Anthony Mason was another bruiser that defended and rebounded with an edge. Mase looked like someone you didn’t want to mess with, he was a part of one of the most intimidating frontlines the league had ever seen. Mason was a great defender as well, who could guard all three frontline positions. If you recall, it was Mason who guarded Hakeem Olajuwon during 4th quarters of the 94’ NBA Final. It was almost enough to win the NBA title.
However, not all ex-Knick tough guys were big guys! Pound for pound, maybe the toughest of them all was shooting guard, John Starks. John played with a hunger and ferocity that was unmatched! Then there was Xavier McDaniel, arguably the most intimidating player to ever step on the court. Xavier was the guy who once literally attempted to strangle another player (Wes Matthews) with his bare hands during a game. McDaniel was maybe the most intimidating player of his day! Unfortunately for Knicks fan, McDaniel only played one season in New York, but his infamous bullying of Scottie Pippen during the 92’ playoffs will never be forgotten. Then you had Kurt Thomas whose hard-nosed, steady play ensured that no team would try to bully any Knick teams he played on, he was called “Crazy Eyes” for a reason. Even an honorable mention of Clarence Weatherspoon, Charlie Ward and Chris Childs represented toughness.
Now the Knicks will look to Kenyon Martin to add that element of toughness. Throughout his 12-year career, Martin has been as tough as they come. Once labeled as the dirtiest player in the league, teams will now think twice about being overly physical with Carmelo or any other Knick for the rest of the season. More importantly, his presence could allow the Knicks to finish games with Melo at small forward, a more defensive big like Martin at power forward and Tyson Chandler at center. Interchanging Amar’e in and out of the frontline gives the Knicks a formidable line-up.
Over the years the league has made a number of moves to eliminate physical play, but physical play and hard-nosed defense can’t be legislated out the game. With that said, every team needs a Kenyon Martin type if they are truly serious about winning a title. With 29 games left, the Knicks have finally added some toughness for 12/13 season.