The Knicks’ Only Championship Teams Deflated Balls, Too

By
Phil Jackson #19 of the New York Knicks rebounds against Paul Silas #35 of the Boston Celtics during a game played in 1973 at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.
Phil Jackson.Photo: Dick Raphael/NBAE/Getty Images

Bad news for New Yorkers who’ve enjoyed the latest New England Patriots cheating scandal, in which they’re accused of deflating footballs to gain an edge: The Knicks’ only two championship teams apparently used to do pretty much the same thing. In a 1986 Chicago Tribune article, Phil Jackson, a member of the Knicks during their glory days in the 1970s, admitted that they would take air out of basketballs to make rebounding easier for their relatively undersized lineup.

From that article:

What we used to do was deflate the ball,”’ recalls Phil Jackson, the cerebral reserve forward who was every bit as metaphysical as he was physical. “We were a short team with our big guys like Willis, our center, only about 6-8 and Jerry Lucas also 6-8, DeBusschere, 6-6.

So what we had to rely on was boxing out and hoping the rebound didn’t go long.

“To help ensure that, we’d try to take some air out of the ball. You see, on the ball it says something like ‘inflate to 7 to 9 pounds.’ We’d all carry pins and take the air out to deaden the ball.

“It also helped our offense because we were a team that liked to pass the ball without dribbling it, so it didn’t matter how much air was in the ball. It also kept other teams from running on us because when they’d dribble the ball, it wouldn’t come up so fast.”

That 1986 article goes on to describe lots of other ways pro athletes bend the rules to gain an advantage, but cautions readers not to condemn the Knicks, because athletes had long been trying to get away with whatever they could: “The reason is that winning is so important and glorified in civilized society that almost any means to achieve it is accepted.” Somewhere in Arizona right now, Bill Belichick is embroidering that on a pillow.