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

“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…

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