Why Are the New York Knicks Called the Knicks?

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While there have certainly been some lean years since the turn of the century, the New York Knicks are one of the NBA’s biggest-name franchises. When you’ve had names like Patrick Ewing and Walt Frazier on the roster and play at an iconic arena in the heart of Manhattan, the ball club has a certain je ne sais quoi about it … even if that hasn’t been enough to lure the league’s best free agents to town.

And while fans everywhere are familiar with the Knicks, have you ever considered the team’s name? In a town with Jets, Giants, Yankees and Nets, what is a Knick?

The answer, as with most things, can be explained through history. Let’s take a trip back in time and check it out.

The New York Knicks logo is seen as players from the bench watch the first quarter of the NBA game against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena on April 3, 2021, in Detroit, Michigan. How did the club get its unique name?
Nic Antaya/Getty Images

A Knickerbocker Is a (Dutch) New Yorker

If you’ve ever dealt with someone from New York City, you’ll know that they (probably) take some level of pride in their hometown. That sentiment is also respected in the Knicks’ unique name.

As laid out on the club’s website, Knicks is short for Knickerbockers, which is a term that dates to the 1600s. The Dutch settlers who came to North America wore pants that ended just below the knee; those pants were known as knickerbockers.

But the basketball team wasn’t really named after pants.

If you think back to history class, you’ll remember that the Dutch were the first Europeans to colonize what’s now the Big Apple, calling it New Amsterdam.

But even when British and later American sensibilities took over, those old Dutch roots weren’t forgotten. In 1809, Washington Irving penned a parody version of New York’s history under the name Diedrich Knickerbocker. In the text, a knickerbocker was a New Yorker who could trace their history back to the early Dutch colonists.

From there, the word took off. The city was symbolized by a “Father Knickerbocker” character, and locals embraced the term.

“At the same time, the term ‘Knickerbocker’ became indelibly linked to anything and everything New York … from Jacob Ruppert’s Knickerbocker Beer to the 1938 Broadway musical Knickerbocker Holiday (which starred Walter Huston and featured the haunting ‘September Song’) to famed society gossip columnists Cholly Knickerbocker (the nom de plume used by Maury Paul and Igor Cassini) and Suzy Knickerbocker (Aileen Mehle),” the Knicks’ website explained.

There was also at least one sports connection, with an 1840s baseball team going by the New York Knickerbockers or the Knickerbocker Nine.

And just over 100 years later, when the Basketball Association of America chartered a team that would call the Big Apple home, there was one name that stood above the others.

“The name came out of a hat,” Garden executive Fred Podesta recalled. “We were all sitting in the office one day – [team owner Ned] Irish, [publicity man] Lester Scott and a few others on the staff. We each put a name in the hat, and when we pulled them out, most of them said Knickerbockers, after Father Knickerbocker, the symbol of New York City. It soon was shortened to Knicks.”

And, from there, the rest is history.