Lawrence: ’68 Knick deal had nice ring

Walt Bellamy shows off the talent that Walt Frazier says could have made him best center in history game, rejecting shot of Baltimore’s Don Ohl. Bellamy, who died at age 74, was later traded for Dave DeBusschere. Daily News photo

Walt Bellamy shows off the talent that Walt Frazier said could have made him best center in the league.

Every NBA team wants to make the big trade, the one that has it drinking champagne and raising championship banners.

Red Auerbach used to make them all the time in Boston, whether it was stealing Bill Russell from St. Louis an eternity ago, or pulling off a swindle at the expense of Golden State by fleecing the Warriors for Robert Parish and a top draft pick he used to take Kevin McHale. That only set Boston up with the greatest front line in the history of the sport, when Auerbach added Parish and McHale to Larry Bird.

For the Knicks, the big one happened 45 years ago next month, when they traded Walt Bellamy, an All-Star-caliber center, for Dave DeBusschere. From there, the Knicks became championship-caliber. The very next season they broke the Celtics’ stranglehold on victory parades and set up a mini-dynasty of their own. They made three trips to the Finals in four seasons, and won their only two NBA titles, in 1970 and 1973.

All this came to mind over the weekend when Bellamy died at the age of 74, the cause of death not revealed.

“That was the final piece to the puzzle,” the great Walt Frazier said on the Garden floor Sunday night, a few hours before the Knicks’ fourth-quarter rally fell short against the Minnesota Timberwolves, 109-100.

“We needed to make the trade because there was a lot of animosity between Walt and Willis Reed,” said Frazier, before heading over to the MSG announcing table. “Walt and Willis didn’t get along. They couldn’t play together and Willis wanted to play center, but Walt was there. So we had to make the deal.”


These Knicks have made a lot of major trades since the one that changed the basketball world, the latest being when they acquired Carmelo Anthony for about half their team. So far, it hasn’t had the desired impact that Jim Dolan was looking for and it probably won’t ever pay off with a championship banner.

On a night when the Knicks played awful defense, giving up a ridiculous 40 points in the first quarter, they remembered Bellamy with a moment of silence before the game. They might make some blockbusters in the future, but it’s doubtful that any will match the DeBusschere trade.

“When we made the trade, no one ever thought it would propel us like it did,” Frazier said. “But once the trade was made, we got rid of all the negativity.”

There was no longer the big Bellamy-Reed problem. Reed went to the middle and showed he could dominate, even against the No. 1 giant of the day, Wilt Chamberlain, while also more than holding his own against the incomparable Russell.

The chemistry also improved dramatically when the Knicks included Howard Komives, a guard, in the deal to the Pistons with Bellamy. Komives and Cazzie Russell did not get along.

“I didn’t know what to expect when we made the deal,” said Frazier, then in his second season. “But I knew what Willis could bring starting at center for us. He could shoot the ball, but there was more. He had a great work ethic.”


That’s something the 6-11 Bellamy, for all his talent, lacked. He entered the league in 1962 and immediately averaged 30 points and 19 rebounds for the Chicago Packers. But by the time the Knicks got him, in the 1965-66 season, he had a reputation for taking it easy.

“If Bellamy had Willis’ work ethic,” Frazier said, “he would have been the best center in the history of the game. But he didn’t work hard. He’d get up for Chamberlain and Russell. But then the next night, Tom Boerwinkle would get 30 on him.”

Not that Frazier didn’t like Bellamy. He kept Frazier in stitches with his one-liners and jokes about Frazier and Dick Barnett. And, according to the greatest guard in franchise history, no one could beat Bellamy in a foot race. It just wasn’t meant to be, as far as Bellamy helping the Knicks win it all.

The funny thing in all this is that Frazier wasn’t convinced that DeBusschere, who was 29 when he arrived in New York, was going to make the huge impact that he did at power forward.

“He was kind of in the twilight of his career,” Frazier said. “I never thought it would turn out the way it did.”

With champagne celebrations, two ticker-tape parades and a couple of banners. Nothing like it since.

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