While the team has seen a drop in recent years, the New York Knicks remain one of the biggest franchises in the NBA thanks to their high-profile location and storied arena. Fans and collectors hope that Phil Jackson can get things back on track, but there are still plenty of options for rookie collectors. The following guide looks at some of the top vintage and modern New York Knicks rookie cards in history.
The vintage list features rookie cards that were released before 1980 and is dominated by players from the 1970s team that won two titles and boasted six Hall of Fame players on the roster for much of the decade. The actual rank is based on card value, but historical relevance was taken into account when values were close.
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Top New York Knicks Vintage Rookie Cards
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Although the Knicks were his fourth pro team, Dick Barnett spent the bulk of his career with the team. The Hall of Fame player was part of two titles with New York and enjoyed his best seasons in the late 1960s. He was named to the 1968 All-Star team and his number was retired by the Knicks. Collectors can find Barnett's rookie in 1969-70 Topps. The product houses quite a few of the top New York Knicks vintage rookie cards.
A top scorer for the Knicks during the middle of the 1980s, Bernard King was a two-time All-Star in New York and led the league in scoring in 1984-85. A career-altering injury took King down at his peak and he was never the same. Bernard King's cardboard debut came in 1978-79 Topps and is a great budget rookie option for Hall of Fame collectors.
Selected to five All-Star appearances with the Knicks, Dick McGuire led the NBA in assists in 1949-50 and his number was retired by the team. In addition to his Hall of Fame playing career, McGuire also coached the Knicks for several seasons. His 1957-58 Topps rookie is one of several prime Knicks cards from the early basketball set.
Despite a short stay in New York, Bob McAdoo is still a top player from the team's history and an appealing rookie card option. The Hall of Fame big man had two All-Star appearances in New York and his 1973-74 Topps rookie can be found for cheap.
A fan favorite during his time with the Knicks in the 1950s and early 1960s, Richie Guerin was a six-time All-Star on the way to a Hall of Fame career. His rookie card is part of the iconic 1961-62 Fleer set, but prices remain reasonable.
Dave DeBusschere made good use of his time in New York, winning two titles with the Knicks and appearing in five All-Star games in just under seven seasons. An all-time great for the team, his 1969-70 Topps rookie is another Hall of Fame card that could be labeled a bargain.
His best days were behind him by the time he made it to the Knicks, but Jerry Lucas is still notable for being an important part of the 1972-73 title team. His 1969-70 Topps rookie is an inexpensive Hall of Fame option.
After playing with the Globetrotters for several years and also playing baseball for the Chicago American Giants in the Negro League, Nathaniel "Sweetwater" Clifton joined the New York Knicks during the middle of his Hall of Fame career. His rookie in 1957-58 Topps is the very first card in the set.
A four-time All-Star with the Knicks, Willie Naulls was also one of the first African Americans to be named captain of a major pro team. His card in 1957-58 Topps is the only key rookie for the Knicks where the player was actually on the team at the time of the release. The rookie card for Naulls is also notable because it was one of the few that were not double-printed.
While Tom Gola saw more success during his time in college and with the Philadelphia Warriors, Gola put forth a productive four-year stint with the Knicks. The Hall of Fame shooting guard was a two-time All-Star in New York and his rookie is also located in 1957-58 Topps.
One of the top overall players from the early years of the franchise, Harry Gallatin was a seven-time All-Star for the Knicks and was inducted into the Hall of Fame. His rookie is normally the most valuable among the Knicks in 1957-58 Topps.
Nicknamed "The Pearl" based on his flashy play, Earl Monroe was part of the 1973 title team and went to two All-Star games for the Knicks. The Hall of Fame guard had his number retired by the team and his 1969-70 Topps rookie documents the first half of his career in Baltimore.
Before he became a United States Senator for New Jersey, Bill Bradley was a pretty good basketball player for the New York Knicks. Bradley played on both title squads in the 1970s and the Hall of Fame small forward had his number retired by the team. An all-time great and crucial to the title runs for the Knicks, Bill Bradley's rookie is found in 1969-70 Topps.
Willis Reed spent all ten years of his NBA career with the New York Knicks, notching seven consecutive All-Star appearances and winning two Finals MVPs. When discussing the greatest Knicks of all-time, Reed is definitely near the top and his 1969-70 Topps rookie is a prime addition for any HOF or Knicks rookie collector.
Compared to the other players near him in the ranking, Walt Bellamy is a bit of an outlier. However, it is not because the Hall of Fame center does not belong among the NBA greats. Bellamy only spent three seasons in New York, so his rookie card value is the only reason he is this high on the list considering his production with the Knicks. Part of one of the most classic sets in basketball collecting history, Bellamy's 1961-62 Fleer rookie deserves a spot in any basketball collection.
The primary facilitator during the period where New York won two titles in four seasons, Walt Frazier is arguably the greatest player in the history of the Knicks, although Willis Reed and Patrick Ewing could both make strong claims as well. His rookie in 1969-70 Topps would be the top overall vintage option were it not for a card from the first basketball product.
Alternating between point guard and shooting guard, Carl Braun was a five-time All-Star for the Knicks. However, his top spot on the list is largely based on the fact that his rookie card came in 1948 Bowman. The most vintage basketball release has achieved a near-mythical status because of the prized George Mikan rookie it contained. Braun's rookie values are nowhere near that, but can still be quite pricey.
The modern list covers all Knicks rookies cards from 1980 to the present. Although the Knicks got off to a slow start in the 1980s, by the 1990s, they were one of the top teams in the league. Since then, the team has not been as impressive, but collectors still have some great options that are highlighted below. Given the change in the hobby from 1980 until now, the actual ranking is based largely on the overall significance of the player.
Top New York Knicks Modern Rookie Cards
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A drug problem kept him from becoming a true star, but Micheal Ray Richardson showed fans of the Knicks something impressive during his time with the team. Richardson was a three-time All-Star in just four seasons and also led the league in both steals and assists in 1980. His first cards are found in 1980-81 Topps and the best option is the card that also includes World B. Free and Artis Gilmore.
The former coach and current broadcaster played for a lot of teams in his career, but his time in New York was his best. Paired with Patrick Ewing, Jackson was the 1988 Rookie of the Year and was also an All-Star the following season. However, he only lasted five seasons before he was traded. Jackson returned nearly a decade later to the Knicks near the end of his career and his budget rookie is found in 1988-89 Fleer.
Off-court issues have hurt his on-court reputation, but Latrell Sprewell was an All-Star player for the Knicks and helped them reach the 1998-99 NBA Finals. Collectors have seven choices when looking at Sprewell rookie cards, and all are cheap.
Bill Cartwright did have some productive seasons in Chicago, but his career began in New York. The seven-footer only made one All-Star game for the Knicks but carried the team before injuries and Patrick Ewing forced him into a backup role. His earliest cards are available in 1980-81 Topps, including one that pairs him with a rookie card for Larry Bird.
Undrafted out of college, John Starks spent time in the World Basketball League and Continental Basketball Association before joining the Knicks. Starks eventually became the starting shooting guard for the team and was a mainstay for most of the 1990s, earning an All-Star nod and Sixth Man of the Year Award. John Starks has four budget rookies in 1991-92 products.
The player that was expected to turn the Knicks around, Carmelo Anthony brought the star power and the scoring ability, but the team success has not materialized. An All-Star during each season in New York, Anthony is running out of time to move his name further up the list. His top rookie is part of one of the biggest basketball sets of all-time. The 2003-04 Exquisite Collection card is limited to just 99 and has an on-card autograph and patch piece.
A strong scoring option for the Knicks for nearly a decade, Allan Houston was a two-time All-Star and helped the Knicks win the 1999 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals with a last-second shot. His seven rookie options in 1993-94 are all inexpensive, but Skybox Premium is the top choice since Houston was not included in 1993-94 Finest.
Combined with Patrick Ewing to form one of the most intimidating frontcourts of the 1990s, Charles Oakley brought consistent double-double production to the Knicks. Oakley earned his only All-Star appearance as a a member of the Knicks and remains a fan favorite. His rookie is found in the famed 1986-87 Fleer set, but prices are not bad.
Easily the biggest modern name for the Knicks and one of the greatest NBA players to never win a title, Patrick Ewing was an 11-time All-Star during his 15 seasons in New York. Even without an NBA title, the Hall of Fame center is remembered fondly as an all-time great. While his official rookie came in 1986-87 Fleer, many collectors view the 1985-86 Star offering as his true rookie card.