Red Holzman played point guard for the then Milwaukee Hawks and the Rochester Royals from 1945-54, but was better known for his coaching career, helping the Knicks bring their last two championships by playing team basketball.
Before Red had a chance to taste greatness, he went through losing records in the beginning of his coaching career. According to Basketball-reference.com, he never had a winning percentage over 50 percent during his three years as a coach with the Hawks. Management finally decided to let him go mid-season after losing 19 games out of the first 33.
After his forgettable first four years as a coach, Red was picked up by the New York Knicks to become a scout for the team. According to Basketball-reference.com, he kept that role for ten years until the Knicks fired Dick McGuire for posting a 197-260 coaching record and hired him as their head coach.
Red was put in a position to compete for a title, if he found a way to gel the pieces he had together. The Knicks came closer and closer as each year proceeded. He already had future Hall of Famers in Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Bill Bradley and Phil Jackson his first year. It wasn’t until they signed Dave DeBusschere that the team nearly reached the NBA Finals, losing to the Boston Celtics two games to four in the Eastern Conference Finals. The next year, Red’s team got over the hump and captured the NBA Trophy, defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in a deciding game seven.
Having many superstars on one team can be blessing and a curse. When the Miami Heat acquired LeBron James and Chris Bosh to team him up with Dwyane Wade, they were automatic favorites to win, but ended up not living up to expectations and losing to the Dallas Mavericks. Red’s team was already stacked with future Hall of Famers, and adding another one in (Earl Monroe) would mean they had to put selfishness aside and play team basketball.
In Monroe’s first season with the team, they reached the Finals but lost their rematch to the Lakers. The next season, they had a third Finals match-up with them and beat them 4 games to 1. The difference between losing their second matchup and winning the third was team basketball.
Red’s quote about their dynasty perfectly exemplifies the type of play he wanted his players to show on the court:
“On a good team there are no superstars. There are great players who show they are great players by being able to play with others as a team. They have the ability to be superstars, but if they fit into a good team, they make sacrifices; they do things necessary to help the team win. What the numbers are in salaries or statistics don’t matter; how they play together does.”
Red passed away on November 13th, 1998. Number 613 is hanging in Madison Square Garden, which represents the number of wins he had during his head coaching tenure with the Knicks. The NBA places him as one of the top 10 coaches in history. His legacy for playing team basketball while having such high-caliber players will live on forever.