Red Holzman, 1920­1998


In the school yards and rec centers of New York circa the 1970s, the voice of Marv Albert imitators filled the air. “Frazier brings it up the left side. Over to DeBusschere. Down low to Reed. Reed kicks it to the top of the key to Monroe. In the corner to Bradley. He stops, he pops! Yesss!” In the days before cable, skyboxes, and embarrassing indictments, New Yorkers listened religiously to Marv’s radio broadcasts and imagined the Garden scene. On certain nights you could hear another accent filter through the crowd noise.

It was the voice of Knicks coach Red Holzman and usually it was shouting, “See the ball!”— shorthand for instructing his charges to know where the ball was in relation to the man they were guarding. While Marv’s “Yesss!” became a part of the city’s slang memory, Red’s “See the ball!” was a less celebrated and more essential signature— a signature of the Knicks’ success, and one that went right along with the better known “Dee-Fense!”

Unlike the brute force taught by Pat Riley in this decade, the “D” of the Knicks’ only two championship teams was a more elegant affair. Walt “Clyde” Frazier and backcourt mates Dick Barnett, Henry Bibby, Dean Meminger, and (against certain players) Earl “the Pearl” Monroe were ball hawks who made it notoriously difficult to get comfortably into your offense. The forwards were spry, agile men (Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley, Dave Stallworth, Phil Jackson, Cazzie Russell) who played the passing lanes and closed quickly on penetrating opponents. The middle was anchored by two Hall of Famers, the legendary Willis Reed and later Jerry Lucas— physical and smart players who used shrewd footwork to compensate for inadequate elevation.

Red guided his intelligent, though not exceptionally athletic, core group to three NBA finals appearances (’70, ’72, ’73) by (a) designing his offense to serve one of the finest jump-shooting teams in NBA history, (b) covering up Bradley, Lucas, and the oft-injured Reed’s lack of foot speed by teaching a subtle zone (one that Jackson would later employ with the Bulls), and (c) exploiting Monroe’s one-on-one wizardry when he joined the Knicks in ’71, without dismantling his overall offensive scheme.

Like many old-school coaches, Red didn’t fare as well in the new era that the NBA-ABA merger of ’76 ushered in. And during his late-’70s return, Red tried to get Spencer Haywood and company to see the ball, but, unfortunately, this crew only knew where the ball was when they were dribbling. Still, his 613 wins is by far the most by any Knicks coach. Too bad he won’t be getting the half-time tribute he deserves. But, just like Marv and the Garden, things have changed.

Callin’ It Like We See It

Steve Phillips just returned to the Mets. Marv Albert is back in the broadcast booth. And Mike Tyson’s weighing his fight options after getting his license back. Sheesh! It sure seems to Jockbeat that the sports culture could use a sex-harassment referee. Below are a few of the potential signals for a very Clinton-era official.

“Illegal Use of Hands” “Offensive Remark” “Excessive Gawking”
Getting grabby with an intern Out-of-bounds joke or compliment Undressing an underling with your eyes

“Exposure Problem” “Score” “Illegal Bite in the Back”
Acting like a total pig Consensual sex between unwed colleagues Switch-hitting, cross-dressing, two-timing broadcasters in the booth

contributors: Nelson George, Bob Eckstein
sports editor: Miles D. Seligman