A remarkable streak involving Shaquille O’Neal ended in the 2021 NBA Finals. It was the first time since 1983 that a current or former teammate of Shaq’s wasn’t playing in the Finals. But another mind-blowing streak as long as the NBA (and its predecessor) itself has rolled on. It involves the New York Knicks and the NBA Finals, which is odd considering those two entities haven’t come together this century.
While it’s probably not something the Knicks and their fans will take a lot of pride in, it’s still a remarkable run of coincidence that defies logic at this point.
Besides, what’s better than a streak that involves you without actually being about you?
The Shaq streak in the NBA Finals
Shaquille O’Neal played 19 seasons in the NBA and reached the NBA Finals six times. He didn’t enter the league until 1992, but at least one of O’Neal’s past or future teammates played in the NBA Finals every year from 1984 through 2020. The streak finally ended this year after 37 seasons. It’s like the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” thing, only with basketball.
But Shaq’s streak ended when the Milwaukee Bucks knocked the Atlanta Hawks out of the playoffs. Hawks guard Rajon Rondo was the last O’Neal teammate left in the playoffs, and Atlanta couldn’t get out of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The first former Shaq teammate in the streak was journeyman center Greg Kite, who played with the Boston Celtics when they won in 1984. As remarkable as the 37-year Finals streak was, O’Neal’s vicarious run is made more intriguing. For the first 32 years, a teammate of the Diesel’s played for the team that won the NBA Finals.
But the New York Knicks look at Shaq’s streak and scoff.
There has never been an NBA Finals played without a connection to the New York Knicks
You read that correctly. A member of the New York Knicks — past, present, or future — has played in every NBA Finals since the founding of the old Basketball Association of America in 1946.
The Knicks didn’t reach the Finals until 1949 and have gone eight times in all. Even so, New York had a fingerprint on the very first BAA Finals between the Philadelphia (now Golden State) Warriors and the Chicago Stags (R.I.P.). On Jan. 16, 1947, the Warriors purchased 6-foot-2 swingman Ralph Kaplowitz from the Knicks.
And so, the streak was born. Reddit user Bucks Bandwagon pointed out the oddity in 2019 when Jeremy Lin’s presence on the Toronto Raptors’ roster extended the string.
The list is a beautiful mix of fringe players and Hall of Famers, All-Stars, and role players. For every Tracy McGrady, Jason Kidd, and Dikembe Mutombo, there is a Toney Douglas, Jackie Butler, or Michael Doleac.
What might the streak prove most of all? The New York Knicks shuffle their roster an awful lot.
The streak lives on with three former New York Knicks in the 2021 NBA Finals
In the 2021 NBA Finals, the Milwaukee Bucks have two former members of the New York Knicks on their roster. The Phoenix Suns have one player who once wore the orange-and-blue.
Bobby Portis, the Bucks’ energetic big man off the bench, spent the 2019–20 season in New York before signing a two-year contract with Milwaukee as a free agent last November. The second year of the deal is a player option. Former Knick Thanasis Antetokounmpo had a two-game cameo with New York in January 2016.
It was the Knicks who introduced undrafted free agent Langston Galloway to the NBA. New York signed the Saint Joseph’s guard for training camp in 2014 after playing for their Summer League entry. He was cut at the end of the preseason but returned on a 10-day contract in January 2015. Galloway played two seasons for the Knicks and found his way to the Suns on a one-year free-agent deal in November 2020.
The New York Knicks last won an NBA title in 1973 and haven’t been to the Finals since 1999. But thanks to many transactions, the Knicks have been at least a peripheral part of every single NBA Finals ever played. That’s still little solace to Knicks fans, considering it’s nearly 50 years since the team’s last championship.