The New York Knicks were one of the best teams in the NBA in the early 1970s. They won two championships (in 1970 and 1973) and had the opportunity to build a dynasty.
Center Willis Reed and power forward Dave DeBusschere retired after the 1973-74 season. Luckily for the Knicks, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wanted out of Milwaukee after the 1974-75 season and New York was his hometown. He was 28-years-old and had already been named MVP three times and led the Bucks to an NBA title.
While the Knicks were his first choice, Abdul-Jabbar ended up going to the Los Angeles Lakers in a blockbuster trade. Los Angeles acquired Abdul-Jabbar and Walt Wesley in exchange for Elmore Smith, Brian Winters, Dave Meyers and Junior Bridgeman. The trade is one of the most lopsided in NBA history and the Bucks have not won a title since trading their star center.
The trade made sense for the Bucks at the time because Abdul-Jabbar wanted to leave, but it was surprising that he ended up going to the Lakers instead of the Knicks.
“I wanted to go to New York and play there,” said Abdul-Jabbar after being traded to the Lakers. “It’s been a dream of mine since I first started playing basketball: to play for the Knickerbockers. But the way things worked out the Lakers were very interested in having me come here and they made sincere determined efforts to get me here. They tried to make me feel at home and New York, this just wasn’t the case for them. So I don’t think its smart to go around people that don’t really want you. So here I am.”
According to Abdul-Jabbar, the Knicks were not interested in acquiring him. That decision has come back to haunt them.
Abdul-Jabbar is now the NBA’s all-time leader in points. In his 14 seasons with the Lakers, he helped lead them to five championships. He was named MVP three more times and was named Finals MVP in 1985.
Abdul-Jabbar helped the Lakers create a dynasty and a winning culture. The Knicks went in the opposite direction. They have not won a championship since 1973 and have repeatedly missed out on landing the league’s top players in free agency. They were rumored to be the frontrunners to sign LeBron James in 2010 but he signed with the Miami Heat. Last offseason they were rumored to be the preferred landing spot for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving but they chose to sign with the Brooklyn Nets.
The Knicks have become known for their dysfunction and have now gone 47 consecutive seasons without winning a championship.
Perhaps all of this could have been avoided. Perhaps the Knicks could’ve landed Abdul-Jabbar. Perhaps the Knicks, not the Lakers would have formed a dynasty in the 1970s and 1980s. It is now clear that the Knicks passed on one of the greatest players in NBA history and perhaps their struggles since then are the universe’s way of punishing them for that horrible decision.
It is also clear that Abdul-Jabbar has gotten the last laugh when it comes to the Knicks, who have now missed the postseason for the seventh consecutive season.
To this day, the “Curse of Kareem” is alive and well, and like the “Curse of the Bambino,” it is only getting stronger with each season that passes by.