Why Are They Called the New York Knicks?

(Last Updated On: October 28, 2019)
Why Are They Called the New York Knicks?

A lot comes to mind when one thinks of New York. The Statue of Liberty. The Empire State Building. Wall Street. Plus you have all the amazing food, art, music, and culture. Clearly there’s a reason the city has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world. 

With New York being such a multi-faceted power-hub, there’s no limit to the possible nicknames the city could have chosen to represent their professional basketball team. So why then are they called the New York Knicks?

And this of course begs another question: what is a knick in the first place?

What Is a Knick? Introducing the Knickerbockers

“Knick” is the short form of the word Knickerbocker. In fact, while we commonly refer to the team as just the Knicks, their actual full name is the New York Knickerbockers.

So what is a Knickerbocker?

Well, the term “Knickerbocker” originates from the early 17th century Dutch settlers who came to the region around present-day New York–then called “New Amsterdam”. The word refers to the style of pants they wore. “Knickerbockers”, or “knickers”, were pants rolled up just below the knee.

However, the term would not become solidified as a New York staple until 1809, when author Washington Irving wrote the satirical A History of New York, which later came to be published as Knickerbocker’s History of New York. In the book, “Knickerbocker” was used to denote New Yorkers who could trace their ancestry back to the original Dutch settlers.

Over time, Irving’s “Knickerbocker” character became synonymous with New York City, and “Father Knickerbocker” came to be a popular city symbol. He was usually depicted with a cotton wig, three-cornered hat, buckled shoes, and knickered pants.

Why Are They Called the New York Knicks?

The Knickerbocker name was first used in sports way back in 1845, when Alexander Cartwright formed one of the first organized baseball teams in history–the New York Knickerbockers, or the “Knickerbocker Nine”.

Related post: A Brief History of Baseball

Use of the Knickerbocker name would only spread after that, from Jacob Ruppert’s Knickerbocker Beer, to the 1938 Broadway musical, Knickerbocker Holiday. By the 20th century, Knickerbocker was a pretty widely used term throughout the city.

In 1946, when Ned Irish, President of Madison Square Garden, was granted a franchise in the newly formed Basketball Association of America (BAA), he wanted to find a perfect name that was representative of New York City. According to legend, he had members of his staff all put names into a hat. The most popular name was “Knickerbockers”, so that’s what Irish settled on.

History of the New York Knicks

The New York Knicks were one of the founding members of the BAA back in 1946. In 1949, the BAA merged with the National Basketball League (NBL) to become the NBA. Along with the Boston Celtics, the Knicks are one of the two original NBA teams that still reside in the city in which they were founded.

In 1950, the New York Knicks would sign Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton–the first African American player to sign an NBA contract. The team would develop many high profile players throughout the decade.

By the late 1960s, the team began to put championship pieces together. With players like Walt Frazier and Willis Reed, the Knicks were able to win their first NBA championships in 1970 and 1973. 

Since those championship years, the Knicks have had many ups and downs, yet they continue to be one of the most valuable teams in the NBA. In 2018, Forbes valued the Knicks at $3.6 billion.


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