Tue. Oct 27th, 2020

The New York Knicks: Young and Running | 1978-1-9

Sports

Games People Play

Ronn Bunn & Earl “The Pearl” Monroe hold up a “Routes” Tee Shirt–In 2016, I was eating in a New Jersey restaurant and my brother Michael spotted Earl. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a photo with him.

Since the advent of the new coach, Willis Reed, the New York Knicks have changed considerably. With the introduction of some new faces and a new style of play, ROUTES wanted to know more and went to Pace College, New York City, where they were in practice. We were able to visit with Coach Willis Reed, Veteran Phil Jackson, Veteran Spencer Haywood and Rookie Glen (Gondo) Gondrezick. At the time of this interview, Bob McAdoo, Ray Williams and Earl Monroe were not available. We would like to introduce to you what we found to be the New 1978 New York Knicks.

ROUTES: Due to Willis Reed’s popularity as a player, do fans expect a Championship this year? Next Year? How long do you feel? What is the rebuilding process?

Coach Willis Reed: I don’t think we can expect a championship this year. We hope to make the playoffs which would be a big improvement over the last couple of years. Right now, we are listed about the fifth best team in the League (record-wise), which I think is very good for our ball club. The main thing we are trying to do right now is to get better and do the things we have to do. We just hope to have a good year.

Veteran Phil Jackson: Well, we obviously don’t think we’re the best team in the NBA and we’re not going to say we are. We are saying this for now and we’re saying this with a lot of reality in our voices and our heads that we’re going to make the playoffs. We found that we played a great game against Philadelphia and we played a great game against Portland. We played on their courts and we lost both games, but we played good basketball. We could have won the games perhaps, if they were on our home court.

But at this time, we haven’t beaten the best teams in basketball. We consider the best to be Philadelphia and Portland, according to last year’s record and we’re not going to beat a lot of teams like that on their courts.

So we have to concentrate on playing each team as well as we play those teams, and getting up for every team that we should be able to be like Buffalo, New Orleans — consequently, we end up playing poorly against a relatively mediocre club. A team that we should really jump on and beat. So what we are trying to do, is pick on the teams that we can beat, do it, and get in the playoffs. From the playoffs, we’re going to go from there.

Spencer Haywood

Veteran Spencer Haywood: well as far as the fans are concerned, I think their expectations are always great so they expect to have a championship this year. Whether we can do it or not, we’re going to work toward that goal — in any given year.

Rookie Glenn Gondrezick (Gondo): Well I think we have the potential to be a championship team. Right now without the capital. ABA, it’s going to make it that much tougher because all the teams are stronger now. We’re going to need a few breaks along the line and we’re going to have to win the crucial games when we have to win them. I think with Willis his help, we have the making of a championship team. I wish I could say it will be this year, but if it’s not it will be in the very near future.

ROUTES: What are your impressions of the job being done by Coach Willis Reed, and, does he drive the team hard in practice?

Jackson: In the first place, I think Willis is a natural leader and he has the ability to get us to play games very hard. At this time, we are learning some tactical things and this of course comes really directly under his tutelage that he has to provide the technical knowledge to us — the players. He alone, his assistants Duke Maguire and Nat Frazier are doing a very good job of trying to get us to adjust to the way basketball teams in the NBA or playing the zone defense is now, and the type of offenses they’re running out of us.

Tactically what we’re after right now is to be able to be a “thinking” basketball club and use the talents that we do have  “which are superior ” to win a lot of games. Most of the time in the NBA, the talent is basically equal, some teams have better talent than others. We have better talent probably among the great talented ballplayers. But we have to become a better technical ball club.

So Willis is doing this and trying to get us to reason out how we’re playing basketball. His approach is very good because he’s patient. He goes through things thoroughly and he tries to get us to understand the basics. Now a lot of us have been away from college ball for a few years and the basketball game has changed drastically over the last five years so this “brush up” is helping us a lot.

Gondo: I don’t find him a hard driving coach at all. Off the courts, he’s very easy to get along with. You can kid around, joke — have a drink with him. He’s a very relaxing kind of person and very enjoyable to be with. On the court, I find him to be very instructional. He is a good coach who is here to teach me and I’m learning a lot from him. He’s helping me with my mistakes and I’m just learning 100% from the coaching aspect and learning if I’m being a man!

ROUTES: Has the “running game” been successful as opposed to a patterned offense?

Jackson: It has against certain clubs. Saturday night we played the New Jersey Nets. Now the Nets are notorious for their slow down game. They have just acquired a new ballplayer, Kevin Porter who was with the Washington Capitals for a few years and now they ‘re changing their style of ball from slow down, run an offense, to having a guard (Kevin Porter) bring the ball up the court at you.

So they are running a lot more. But what they are famous for and what they are good for, is stopping a fast break. What they did was defend us as soon as they took the shot and missed or made the basket, or missed or made the free-throw. They would start defending us in our back court which stopped our offense. Basically, an offensive fast breaking team has to do two things:

  1.  They either have to get the rebound off fast and get the ball running up the court or

They have to get the rebound, hit somebody in the wings, and have a guard carry the ball up the court. It’s all in the transition, going from defense, all of a sudden changing to offense. That’s what Willis is trying to do. We have the innate speed, and the innate ability to run.

What we don’t have yet is the transitional type of basketball where we can take the shot or they, the opposing team, can take the shot. If it goes in, we get it out fast. If it misses, we get the rebound and get it out fast. We’re not a great rebounding team, so we have to rebound well defensively so we can get the ball out and get it going.

ROUTES: Bob McAdoo is driving to the basket more this season than in the past. Has this helped or hindered your offense?

Reed: I think Bobby is a tremendous player. What he’s basically doing is everything I’ve asked him to do. We are trying to now change some of the players’ concepts of the game and it has worked pretty well so far.

Haywood: Sometimes, it helps and at times it hinders. Any time that you are working a specific play, it has to be executed to the maximum as you must set up and execute. If you know you can take a man on a drive, you drive because the team is set and it breaks down the offense. So it’s a yes and no answer.

Glen Gondrezick

Gondo: Well, Bob McAdoo is the type of player who can score in not just one way, but many ways and going to the basket for him is just as good an outside shot for him. Sometimes, he’ll dunk it, sometimes he’ll lay on the basket. But most of the time, he’ll get fouled so he’s on the free throw line and, if he misses on the basket, he’ll get 2 free-throws, so it just creates more of a situation and creates more movement in our offense. Since he’s been doing that, players have been looking when he goes to the basket and they know that if he’s not open, he’s going to pass it and this creates more movement in our offense. I think it’s good that he’s more of an inside shooter.

ROUTES: The Knicks are scoring more this season, but they are giving up a lot of points. Is the team having trouble on defense?

Reed: No I think that we are a young ball club and when you run a lot, you do give up more points. For example, I think the biggest thing now is that at this same time of the season last year, we have a better record and that’s very significant. If we can continually do that, then hopefully we’ll be a better ball club all season long.

Jackson: No doubt about that!

The biggest problem is that when you run a lot and push the ball at a team rather than taking it up, nursing it, taking a careful shot, when you’re aggressive with the ball and you’re offensively threatening with the ball, you’re going to turn it over more times. You’re going to lose it, kick it out of bounds, you’re going to give it up to the other team’s hands, and you’re going to take bad shots. That, in turn, gives the other team the ball with the tempo picked up.

A lot of teams have begun to pick up their tempo when they play with us. Now we don’ t mind that because we have a lot of young basketball players. What we want to do is run a club as much as we can for three quarters and then in the fourth quarter, hopefully our conditioning, our youth, and our speed is going to pay off and we’ll beat a team down to the end of the game.

ROUTES: Since the departure of Walt Frazier, there doesn’t seem to be a floor leader? A playmaker? Whom do you prefer?

Reed: I think eventually Ray Williams will be our floor leader. Right now, he leads our team in assists, Earl Monroe also assists. Basically, what we I’ve done so far is to utilize Earl as our shooting guard and generally, Ray to bring the ball up and down the floor and play good defense. Cleamons is basically our defensive guard, too. Right now, I would say Butch Beard and Ray Williams are the two guys who are kind of the floor leaders for us.

Jackson: Well it’s relatively not my preference. What’s going to happen is that a floor leader will emerge and I will tell you this that I’ve seen Butch Beard for 9 years, I’ve seen Earl Monroe for 11 years, and he’s played with me and I’ve seen Jimmy Cleamons now for five or six years in the NBA, Ray Williams is still a rookie.

So we’re going to have to see who is going to assume the leadership job and I believe that the natural person will come forward. I anticipated when they got Jim Cleamons that he would naturally step into the position because he ran the Cleveland Cavaliers wonderfully. He did a great job with them. He’s an exceptional defensive ball player.

Earl is a leader by his own temperament and by his magical personality that he gives out there. He gives you leadership, not by running a team technically, but by forcing the plays, forcing the one-on-one moves and doing it on the floor. We need a ” director” more or less — a “general” out there. So Butch Beard right now is basically our playmaker, Jim Cleamons is our playmaker and Ray and Earl are doing the one-on-one moves and going at them.

Gondo: I think it would be Earl Monroe. He’s our Captain, he is the one with the most experience in this league, and I look to him for leadership on the court. He takes the shots when we need the crucial baskets. I look for him to be our leader.

ROUTES: Walt Frazier, once the premiere guard in the NBA, is gone and in his place you have Jim Cleamons. Has the trade of Walt Frazier hurt?

Reed: No, I don’t think the trade has hurt us. You know you have to look at a trade in the light of what it is. Walt Frazier would have probably played three more years of basketball and right now he’s 32 years old. The player we have gotten in his place is Jim Cleamons who is 28, we have four years before he becomes 32.

So I think that with the club we are trying to build, the trade was useful for both teams. Right now, the Cleveland Cavaliers probably have one of the best records in the League, I think they are about 27-7 which is a very good record, percentage-wise. So I think the trade has helped us and the Cavaliers.

ROUTES: what of the rookies? What have you done to help them? Do you represent a sort of “father” image to them?

Reed: I think we have some good rookies. They play a lot of time, around 60 minutes at night, averaging close to 30 points a game for us. That’s all three of them together. I don’t really know what their averages are offhand, but I think Ray Williams, our number one draft pick, is going to be a tremendous ball player. Glen Gondrezick and Toby Knight too. All three are going to be super players.

Phil Jackson

Jackson: I think they’re young turkeys so to speak and they’re not going to take the intellectual kind of knowledge. They’re going to watch how a ball player plays, see the clutch situation, see how you react, then they’re going to learn from experience. As we all know, experience in life is the greatest teacher and this goes for the basketball court, too.

I have learned myself that the more minutes you play, the better you are and the more experienced you get — if you can learn from experience.

Some basketball players can do the same thing over and over again and well…. Our rookies Toby Knight, Glen Gondrezick and Ray Williams seem to be great basketball players. They are all good talents, they play very hard and that’s the kind of ball players we want.

Also I think that if they pick up the experience and use it to the best of their abilities, sit, watch, and see what the veterans are doing on the court, they are going to learn a lot of basketball. They are going to learn a lot from Willis because he’s giving them the experience.

Haywood: Well, at times, I guess I can say I pass on some information that has been passed on to me. I’m sort of impressed with the rookies because they have been playing very well and they are getting the adequate playing time.

ROUTES: What is the injury reserve list? Are players paid in full or in part while they are out?

Jackson: It means that a ball player will be unable to play for at least a couple of games maybe 3 or 4 so a team voluntarily places him on a 5-games disabled list, which means he sits out for five games. At that time, they reevaluate his physical condition and if he’s ready to play, then they put him back on the active list. Yes, they’re paid in full for the duration.

Reed: IRL is when a player is physically unable to play and after being examined by a doctor who determines that he is not able to play for a period of time, the player must be out for at least 5 or more games. But the “clause” (the player’s contract clause) states that he still is a part of your team. The player gets paid his full salary.

Actually, that doesn’t have anything to do with salary because his contractual agreement is that, for example, a player can be cut from your roster and is guaranteed his contract which means that he has to be paid for the year, but he’s cut.

A player on the IRL means that a player has been injured playing ball. He still gets his normal salary and the team may have to pick up another player. Sometimes a team does pick up another player, sometimes they don’t. It all depends.

ROUTES: Are there ever times when you are not “up” for the game?

Haywood: Of course there are times when you feel down, but as far as playing you always feel that you have to play. I mean this is your job, this is your livelihood so it’s just a matter of getting mentally tuned up and being ready to do what is necessary. I get myself  “up” by listening to some music, some “Miles” or some “Trane” to sort of relax my mind. At other times I might do some yoga, stretching my body out, sort of “cueing” up on what I have to do.

Gondo: I don’t have too much trouble getting up for a game because for me every game is a new game. New players, you know what I mean. It’s not the same team that we played before or if we did, then it was in pre-season and now it’s in regular season. I get to see players that I’ve heard about and watched play, so it’s easier motivation for me because of that aspect. No, I’m always up to par for a game.

Some Seldom Asked Questions

ROUTES: What about your diet? Do you have a “basketball” diet? What is your regular diet? Day of the game diet? Favorite foods?

Jackson: I’m a vegetarian by choice. Basketball has led me to believe that it’s a violent sport and according to that, I have to eat chicken and fish during the basketball season. I try to stay away from “muscle” meats basically and eat chicken or fish maybe two or three times a week for one of my meals. My wife is a vegetarian cook so normally at home I’ll have a vegetarian meal.

On the road, because it’s so difficult to find a consistent vegetarian diet where you have the mixture of nuts, beans, grains that will give you the protein balance that you need, I usually go towards fish or chicken.

Haywood: My regular diet is a vegetarian one. I’ve been a vegetarian for almost two years and I’m going to stick with it.

Gondo: During the season, I try to cut out all of the sweets that I possibly can. Sometimes it’s hard because after a game they have “pop” soda and beer in the locker room and you don’t want to drink too much pop because it’s sweet and beer has lots of calories. I’m not the type of player that likes to drink beer during the season because if I drink one, I’ll want another and another and so on.

The day of the game, about four hours before, I’ll have a steak, salad, potato, or maybe waffles — foods with a lot of calories because they give my body the kind of nutrition I think it needs for the game. I watch my weight carefully during the season too so I don’t gain or lose too much.

ROUTES: Because of your height, do you have problems with traveling facilities, hotel accommodations, bed sizes?

Spencer Hayward

Reed: Travel accommodations. Not really, ever since I was 13 years old, I’ve been above average height which is 6″5 inches, so I’ve learned to live and grow up in an “average sized” world. For example, in the hotels, I try to get the king-size beds. If I can’t, well I take a double and make the best of it!

Jackson: Ha! Ha! Not really!

Haywood: As far as the buses are concerned, we do have to stretch our legs out over a few seats. Normally, in this society everything is built for the average size person so therefore you learn to adjust and adept yourself to whatever the situation is. The beds? (smile) Sometimes they’re smaller than twins!

Gondo: I myself don’t have any trouble but I’ve heard guys like Lonnie and Bob complain about the beds in Seattle that were too short. Other than that … Usually everything is done in first class, the buses have plenty of room, we usually stay in the best hotels, it’s really a first class operation and they make sure we don’t have too many problems with accommodations.

ROUTES: Do you have “hang out” spots in the various major cities where you play such as restaurants, discos, Night Clubs? Chicago, Boston, Portland, San Francisco, etc.?

Jackson: I like cities. I enjoy most of the major cities in the country with the exception of some of the midwestern cities that are falling apart in the middle. Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, the Great Lakes Cities are sometimes depressing, but during the daytime, I like to go to the public libraries, museums, the public art shows, art galleries and relax. I’m learning the arts and finding appreciation.

As far as relaxing following a game, normally because we eat at 2 p.m. for a 7:30 or 8 p.m. game, the priority is going out to get something to eat so you don’t go to bed on a full stomach; that’s my first priority. Normally, since I’ve been in different towns for ten years, I’ve accumulated various friends who attend the games.

I will get in touch with them, we go out to eat, have a visit and I come back — usually watch the Tom Snyder Show and fall asleep.

Haywood: After each game, it takes me about 3 to 4 hours to wind down, so if I’m in Chicago, I try to get down to the “London House” and listen to some jazz. If I’m in Boston, I get to the “Workshop,” and so on. In all of the cities I have spots where I can go and get some live music. I love live music!

Gondo: Since we do travel by bus, when we get to the hotel if you want to go somewhere else, you have to take a cab. Most places we’ve been to there’s not too much to do so I usually stay in the hotel. Like the last hotel we were in was in Buffalo and they had a real nice disco and we went there after the game. Sometimes, I’ll go to the movies or read a book or watch television of just lay around the room. That’s about it. Real exciting, huh?

ROUTES: Are you involved in any programs relating to the community?

Reed: I do a lot of things. I’m involved in a basketball league which is in Harlem. They’re trying to now get a building in Harlem and build a gym for kids to play basketball.

Jackson: I’ve been active in various things in the past in New York City. Basically in YMCA’s, I’ve been working with them separately for the last five or six years. There have been occasions where I’ll be contacted by a community group and we’ll get out and spend some time in the community talking to their youth groups.

I don’t have a specific cause that I support outside of the ” Ys” and my activities with the Ys have been fruitful. I’ve enjoyed it not only in basketball but in hiking and other outdoor activities.

Haywood: Yes, I’ve sponsored about 500 kids in Harlem and in the Bronx this past summer in a basketball clinic which is called “an awareness camp.” We used basketball as a tool for attraction, but mainly we were trying to teach children, and young adults awareness of themselves, their community, their parents and relationships. I enjoy doing work in the community.

ROUTES enjoyed having this interview with the New York Knicks. We hope you did too. This new form of sports reporting revealed new insights and data for us. We plan to return to this form pretty soon. We hope you will follow us.

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