On Pro Basketball: Once in the Vanguard of Diversity, Knicks Build a Future That Echoes the Past

On Pro Basketball: Once in the Vanguard of Diversity, Knicks Build a Future That Echoes the Past

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“Douglas told me years later that when Ned Irish, who owned the Knicks, came out of a meeting in the commissioner’s office to tell them the league voted against accepting the Rens, my father wanted to quit right there,” said Joe Lapchick’s son Richard. “Douglas said he told him he shouldn’t because he might have an impact down the road.”

By 1950, Lapchick had drafted and signed Nat Clifton, a former Rens player better known as Sweetwater and one of the three African-Americans who simultaneously integrated the N.B.A.

All these decades later, the Knicks of James L. Dolan, their habitually embattled owner, have — unwittingly, in all probability — embraced their activist roots. In the process, they may rinse away the aftertaste of the Phil Jackson era.

With the promotion of Steve Mills to team president from general manager last month and the hiring of Scott Perry to replace Mills, the Knicks have the only African-American president-and-general-manager tandem in the league. While 80 percent of the league’s players are of color, the most prized executive positions in basketball have been stubbornly and overwhelmingly white.

The Knicks did not stop there….