Any discussion of Harthorne Wingo, a popular reservation for the New York Knicks in the 1970s, usually begins with his name. His first name was Harthorne – not Hawthorne as it was often misspelled.
His last name was sung by fans at Madison Square Garden (“Wing-o !, Wing-o!”) To ask Knicks coach Red Holzman to bring him into the game.
His name “belongs in a poem or a song,” the New York Times sports columnist Dave Anderson wrote in 1973. “Or maybe in a museum, as if a wingo was once a large bird that is now extinct.”
Wingo, a high-jumping forward who stood a lanky 6-foot-6never became a museum exhibition. But the Beastie Boys used his name in their 1989 song “Blame me”: “Updated more on hip-hop lingo (Not that hard man) /My favorite kink in New York was Harthorne Wingo. ”
Wingo followed suit Knicks as reserve during the 1972-73 seasonwhen they won their second NBA championship (and their last to date). He remained a reserve for three more seasons. He had his best season in 1974-75 when he averaged 20.6 minutes, 7.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.
“He was a fringe player, a bench player with an unorthodox shot that they used perfectly for his energy and rebound,” said Marv Albert, the Knicks radio announcer during Wingo’s time with the team, over the phone. “The players really loved him and so did the fans.”
Wingo died in a New York hospital on January 20, according to the New York Medical Examiner. He was 73 years old. He had long suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, said his cousin Jackie Wingo Wood.
Harthorne Nathaniel Wingo was born on September 9, 1947 in Tryon, NC, in the western part of the state near the South Carolina border. He was one of 14 children of Nathaniel Harthorne Wingo, a construction worker, and Jessie Mae (Gary) Wingo. Harthorne was part of the first grade that incorporated Tryon High School, which he attended his senior year, and he was the only black starter on the school’s basketball team to win a conference title.
After a year at Friendship Junior College in Rock Hill, SC, he played basketball in an industrial league in Spartanburg, SC, and then moved to New York City. He played in a winter basketball league in 1968 and then played with the Voted for at least one summer Rucker Pro League in Harlemwhere professionals and talented local players competed against each other.
“To me it was like someone was taking a stallion into an open field and letting him go,” said Wingo PolkSports, A website dedicated to sports in the county where he grew up.
The Knicks found out about him because of his Rucker success. Before they signed him, he played for the Harlem Wizards and the minor league Allentown Jets in Pennsylvania, where he became a star. When the Knicks signed him in February 1973, he joined a list that included future Hall of Famers Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley, Jerry Lucas and Earl Monroe.
“Like his name, he was a very unique individual,” Frazier said in a statement. “He was bubbly, sociable, and had an infectious personality who loved not only his teammates but the Knicks nation as well.”
The Knicks gave up Wingo in 1976 and he played in Italy, Switzerland and South America. After retiring from basketball in 1983, he had financial problems and drug problems, according to PolkSports.
He is survived by his sister Rosemary Wingo Palmer and brother McDonald.
At the beginning of his career, Wingo talked about “Wing-o!” Singing. “It makes me feel alive and want to work harder,” he told The Times in 1973. “It’s like people are offering me a reward for all of my years of struggle to make it here.”