Phil Jackson once admitted championship Knicks deflated balls

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As Deflategate engulfs the NFL during Super Bowl week, the common refrain has been nothing like that could happen in the NBA. After all, both teams use the same ball.

But something like this did happen in the NBA, and the deed was done by the revered 1970s Knicks, who won titles in 1970 and 1973.

Phil Jackson spilled the beans years ago.

Sam Smith of the Chicago Tribune in 1986 (hat tip: Todd Radom):

And then there were the New York Knicks of the early 1970s, a team that had Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere, Jerry Lucas, Bill Bradley, Walt Frazier, and Dick Barnett and that represented for many the apotheosis of the game.

They simply took the air out of the ball.

The team that basketball purists often called the best ever because they embodied many of the most respected elements of the game, such as sacrifice and intelligence, which they merged with efficient passing, aggressive defense and timely shooting, had this little gimmick that often gained them just enough of an edge to win.

But it wasn’t cheating, exactly. It was more like creative invention that might come from the likes of some McHale, McAdoo or Machiavelli.

“What we used to do was deflate the ball,” recalls Phil Jackson, the cerebral reserve forward who was every bit as metaphysical as he was physical.

“We were a short term with our big guys like Willis, our center, only about 6-8 and Jerry Lucas also 6-8. DeBusschere, 6-6. So what we had to rely on was boxing out and hoping the rebound didn’t go long.

“To help ensure that, we’d try to take some air out of the ball. You see, on the ball it says something like ‘inflate to 7 to 9 pounds.’ We’d all carry pins and take the air out to deaden the ball.

“It also helped our offense because we were a team that liked to pass the ball without dribbling it, so it didn’t matter how much air was in the ball. It also kept other teams from running on us because when they’d dribble the ball, it wouldn’t come up so fast.

So the team that expressed the soul of the game, produced a U.S. senator, a former top executive of an NBA team, several coaches and successful businessmen and set standards that many still try to emulate also had the heart of burglar.

It was one thing when Willis Reed fought the Lakers. But attacking ethics of the game?

How will all the sanctimonious Patriots-hating New Yorkers cope with this revelation?