As such a historically famous franchise, the Knicks can play almost anywhere and feel at home. Even London, where they'll be facing the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.

"Everybody knows the Knicks," Hall of Famer Earl Monroe says. "Even when I was playing, it was a big thing for the Knicks wherever they played."


Of course, during Monroe's playing career, the Knicks went the NBA Finals three times in four seasons, winning the title twice. The present is bleak. The Knicks are taking a league-low 5-35 record to London, and they're on pace for the worst winning percentage in team history.

Fortunately for the Knicks, they're also bringing Monroe to London along with two stars from the 90s era that produced two Finals appearances, John Starks and Larry Johnson. With the team such a mess at the moment, nostalgia is the smart way to play it. The Knicks had these three former stars representing them at the promotional pop-a-shot event last week at Grand Central Station in which the winning fan won a trip to the London game from Delta Air Lines.

The glory of those two Knicks championship teams was just revisited in the ESPN "30 For 30" documentary When the Garden was Eden, but Monroe says fans from that era didn't necessarily need a reminder.

"People say, 'I saw the When the Garden was Eden,' but those are the same people that say, 'Hey, Earl, what's going on?'" Monroe says. "The thing is those are the teams that have stayed in the conscience of New York."

Knicks president Phil Jackson was featured in the documentary for his role as a key reserve on those teams. His return to New York as an executive has gotten off to a rocky start in terms of the team's brutal record, but he is essentially starting from scratch. They took a step toward rebuilding last week when the team let loose J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert in a three-way trade with the Cavaliers and Thunder. Both Smith and Shumpert were part of a Knicks team two seasons ago that went 54-28.

"The vibe is always strong here in New York," says Starks, an advisor in the Knicks Alumni Relations & Fan Development department. "Everybody knows change is coming down the pipeline, and unfortunately it's happening sooner than later, obviously with J.R. and Iman being traded. The team is going to continue to work hard see what pieces fit moving forward."

In the immediate aftermath of the deal, the Knicks see little improvement on the court, gaining big man Lance Thomas. The meat of the trade for New York comes in the form of salary cap space moving forward.

"For some people, it's hard to see the improvement," Johnson says. "For someone like me, who's a basketball fanatic, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Be patient and forget the record."

Knicks fans' patience may be extended thanks to the equity Jackson built as a championship player in New York and coach with the Bulls and Lakers.

"Phil Jackson has 11 championship rings, so I think he knows a little bit about winning," Starks says. "It'll just take a little bit for Phil's plan with this team. We're looking forward to seeing how it works."

Regardless of how bad the Knicks are this season, they're still playing in the important role of NBA ambassador for the league's fourth regular-season visit in five years to London. (There were no international games during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season).

"They understand the NBA," Starks says of fans in England. "They sell out the arena. It's not the first time the fans have seen the game of basketball. They're excited to see the teams come over. It's always excited seeing the game contested overseas. I really enjoy these times when you're able to take the game global and get a different perspective of fans and their reaction to the game of basketball."

For the players, heading to London is probably a welcome getaway, even though it involves a flight of nearly eight hours.

"When you see the schedule at the beginning of the season, you probably think, 'Wow,'" says Johnson, who is working for the team's Basketball & Business Operations. "I think right now, those guys are just happy and excited to go to another country to play."

Starks says, "When you come to grips with it, you say, hey, we get seven days off before we play and get to see a new culture and take in new scenery."

The NBA has been playing international games since the 1970s. The first regular-season game played overseas was in 1990 when the Suns and Jazz split two games in Tokyo. London hosted its first NBA exhibitions in 1993. Then in 2011, it became the first European city to stage NBA regular-season games as the Nets won twice against Toronto.

Like the NFL, there are rumblings of London becoming the home of an NBA franchise.

"I know they've talked about it," Starks says. "Commissioner Adam [Silver] is probably looking at that in the near future -- putting a team over there or a league over there. It'd be exciting if there was something."

The issue of long-distance travel is mitigated by the comforts of modern flying.

Monroe's overseas playing experience came after he retired from the NBA when he organized a group of former stars to tour China, Hong Kong and Manila in 1984. Monroe's teammates included Rick Barry, Pete Maravich, Cazzie Russell, Connie Hawkins and Bob Dandridge. For a coach, Monroe tapped Jackson, who was coming off a Continental Basketball Association championship with the Albany Patroons.

Monroe takes a long breath when thinking back to those 1984 exhibitions. "That was exotic," he says.

Now the Knicks will bring two European players across the pond, Andrea Bargnani (Italy) and Jose Calderon (Spain), and the Bucks will add Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece) and Ersan Ilyasova (Turkey).

"The game has grown to such a degree it's almost like playing at home with so many European players on the roster," Monroe says.

The Knicks and Bucks tip off at 3 p.m. ET Thursday on NBATV from O2 Arena.

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-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.