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NY Post
New York Post
21 Oct 2023

NextImg:Spike Lee reveals his favorite Knicks souvenirs — and a 2024 prediction

One of the Knicks’ most passionate fans is showing off some of his most prized possessions.

Oscar-winning director Spike Lee is giving fans a front-row seat to his basketball obsession — and much more — at the Brooklyn Museum’s new exhibit, “Spike Lee: Creative Sources,” on display through Feb. 4, 2024.

There’s an entire room devoted to Lee’s love of the Knicks, with signed gear, artwork, photos, and even a net from the franchise’s first championship in 1970.

All these years later, the filmmaker’s fandom remains as fierce as ever, buoyed by stars like Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle.

“I say, ‘Eastern Conference finals,'” Lee, 66, told The Post of this season’s expectation for the Knicks, who factor heavily in the expansive exhibition of 468 items that influenced his life and career.

But there’s much more than just sports memorabilia on display, including the American flag from the opening sequence of “Malcolm X” and the Brooklyn Dodgers jersey he donned as Mookie in 1989’s iconic “Do The Right Thing” set in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy.

Oscar-winning director Spike Lee is giving fans a front-row seat to his basketball obsession — and much more — at the Brooklyn Museum’s new exhibit.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Here, Lee — who now lives in Manhattan but keeps his production company headquartered in Fort Greene, Brooklyn — shares some of the stories behind his Knickerbockers gems, and a few fun extras.

On May 8, 1970, a 13-year-old Lee got a firsthand glimpse of Knicks legend Willis Reed hobbling onto the court at Madison Square Garden, where New York won Game 7 from the favored Los Angeles Lakers to win its first of two NBA championships.

“That picture is by the great George Kalinsky, one of the great Madison Square Garden photographers,” Lee told The Post. “And that picture is Willis Reed dragging his foot onto the court … I was there. I was 13 years old.”

An autographed photo of Knicks center Willis Reed taking the court before New York won Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals is among Lee’s favorite keepsakes. “To Spike Lee, best wishes to the ‘Knicks’ Greatest’ Fan,” Reed inscribed.
Joshua Rhett Miller

The crowd of 19,000-plus erupted when Reed took the court. Prior to the game, it was unclear if the all-star center would play due to a torn thigh muscle, but doctors injected him with painkillers.

Decades later, many sports fans pretend they also witnessed history, Lee said.

“Nowadays, too many people say they were at that game, which is bullshit,” Lee said with a laugh. “The New York Knicks’ first world championship. Those are my guys … my heroes.”

The photo was a gift from Kalinsky after Reed signed it, Lee said.

“I’ve had great relationships with those guys,” he added of the early ’70s rosters, particularly Walt Frazier and Dick Barnett, as well as Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, who helped lead the Knicks to a championship in 1973. “And me and Bill Bradley are really tight, too. These are still my guys.”

Lee’s stash from that deciding game also includes one of the game’s two official nets, which he purchased from a collector.

Just looking at the 27- by 30-inch framed piece immediately takes him back to that magical game, the filmmaker said.

“I’ve been to World Series, Super Bowls, World Cup games, the Olympics — I’ve never heard the noise, a crowd as loud as when Willis walked on that court,” Lee told The Post of Reed. “Here’s the thing though: The Lakers had Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West — and Willis had to get a [painkiller injection], so he didn’t come onto the court with the rest of the two teams.”

But the tenor in the Garden changed dramatically when Reed took the floor during warmups, Lee said.

Lee owns one of two official nets from Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals.
Joshua Rhett Miller

“The entire Laker team froze,” he recalled. “The entire layup line — they all froze! When they heard that noise, they turned around and saw Willis limp to the free throw line and he hit his first two practice shots. It was over. The Lakers were beat.”

Lee’s affinity for Knicks great Patrick Ewing started while the athlete was at Georgetown University, where the Big East behemoth dominated en route to becoming the NBA’s top overall draft pick in 1985.

“Patrick at Georgetown, under the guise of the late great John Thompson, that’s when the Big East was, I mean, killing,” Lee said. “Georgetown, St. Johns, Connecticut, Villanova — those were great, great teams. So I became a Patrick Ewing fan with Georgetown.”

Lee’s colossal collection of Knicks souvenirs includes an acrylic on canvas painting of Patrick Ewing by artist King Overman.
Joshua Rhett Miller

Ewing, who won the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award, led the Knicks for the next 15 seasons, later being named to the Basketball Hall of Fame and considered among the top 50 players of all time.

An NBA championship, however, eluded Ewing, thanks in part to Michael Jordan — yet another superstar in Lee’s orbit.

“A dear, dear friend,” Lee said of Ewing, 61, who was fired as Georgetown’s coach in March after four seasons. “I’m just glad he’s happy now. That’s my guy, that’s all I’ll say.”

The stunning seven-foot acrylic on canvas painting of Ewing was created by artist King Overman, who has immortalized other NBA greats.

Lee also owns authentic jerseys of many Knicks legends — from Carmelo Anthony and John Starks to ’70s greats Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere, Walt Frazier, and Earl Monroe.

“They’re game-worn and signed, too,” he said of the gear from the Knicks’ two championship teams.

The show, which runs through early February, takes Knicks fans back to the team’s glory days with jerseys of stars like Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere, Walt Frazier, and Earl Monroe.
Darian DiCianno/

The startling array, which includes Knicks stars from subsequent decades like Ewing, John Starks, Carmelo Anthony, and Latrell Sprewell, had been housed at Lee’s office in Brooklyn, he said.

Elsewhere in the exhibit, visitors can see the Brooklyn Dodgers jersey Lee donned as “Mookie” in “Do the Right Thing” as well as the Jesus Shuttlesworth pullover from 1998’s “He Got Game” starring Ray Allen.

Michael Jordan, of course, never played for the Knicks but still has a place in the filmmaker’s heart.

Lee — who first collaborated with Jordan in 1988, reviving his Mars Blackmon character from “She’s Gotta Have It” in a commercial for Nike’s Air Jordan III — pays homage to the NBA great throughout the Brooklyn Museym exhibit via autographed, oversized posters and a Shepard Fairey portrait.

But two sets of Jordan’s game-worn sneakers, complete with a personal message from No. 23, are sure to turn the most heads.

“The funny thing was, one says, ‘To Spike, sorry,'” Lee said of the gift from the longtime Knicks nemesis, who gave the director the shoes after doling out another brutal beatdown to New York. “Those were handed to me off his feet, right at the locker room.”

One of two pairs of Air Jordans autographed by the Chicago Bulls is great on display at the new exhibit, “Spike Lee: Creative Sources,” which runs until early February.
Joshua Rhett Miller

Despite years of seeing his beloved Knicks succumb to Jordan’s dominance, especially at Madison Square Garden, the pair still enjoy a “very good friendship,” Lee said.

“Everybody in the NBA, when that schedule comes out, they circle when they’re going to the world’s most famous arena,” Lee said. “And you know Mike liked to show out at the Garden. So I would say, ‘Mike, let me get those shoes after the game.'”

In 2022, Yankees slugger Aaron Judge captivated baseball by bashing 62 home runs and eclipsing Roger Maris’ 61-year-old American League record.

The eventual AL MVP handed Lee, sitting in the stands, his bat after hitting a three-run blast against Houston on June 26.

“That was amazing, just to see him chase the record and hit that home run,” said Lee, who had been sitting above the team’s dugout and got Judge to sign it later.

Yankees slugger Aaron Judge gave filmmaker Spike Lee a bat after smashing a home run against the Houston Astros in New York on June 26, 2022.
Joshua Rhett Miller

Lee’s personal collection also includes instruments played by late icons, like Prince’s so-called “love symbol” guitar, circa 1993.

“I asked him for it,” Lee said flatly of how he acquired the mahogany, maple, and metal creation. “He looked at me like I was crazy — with that Prince look — and it showed up a year later at my house … True story.”

Lee simply asked Prince for the eye-popping guitar, but getting it autographed wasn’t in the cards, the filmmaker recalled to The Pos.t
Joshua Rhett Miller

Pressing his luck, Lee then asked Prince if he would autograph the guitar, Lee recalled.

“He said, ‘I’ll take that s–t back,'” Lee said, laughing. “I said, ‘OK, forget it, forget it!'”

Lee, who produced a documentary for the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s “Bad” album, also directed two short films for songs by the King of Pop, including “They Don’t Care About Us” in 1996 and “This Is It” in 2009.

In 1987, Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” topped the Billboard Hot 100 music chart.

The lyrics were written by songwriters Siedah Garrett and Glen Ballard, who previously worked with Jackson.

Sheet music for Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” circa 1987, signed by songwriters Siedah Garrett and Glen Ballard.
Joshua Rhett Miller

“To Spike, pure joy, no filler,” Garrett wrote.

“To Spike, keep the faith,” Ballard added.

Lee wasn’t especially close with Jackson, who died in 2009, but the pair shared a mutual admiration.

“We weren’t buddy-buddy, but we really respected each other,” Lee said. “He called me out of the blue and we went to Brazil to shoot the film for ‘They Don’t Care About Us,’ which has become an anthem now … But I hung up on him three times in a row because I didn’t think it was him.”