Thursday, November 16, 2006

Maiden Voyage to the Mecca

One of the things that got me excited about moving to New York was the sports scene. I anticipated trips to Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium, and, of course, Madison Square Garden. Knicks, Rangers, and college basketball all occupy the latter. Before I even arrived in NYC, I had tickets to four events at MSG. Two Knicks games (Miami Heat, because I feel I need to see Shaq and Wade play, and the Seattle Supersonics, because I'd like to see them play as much as I can before they move to Oklahoma City) and two Rangers games (both against Ottawa, to see my boy Pat play). But on Wednesday, with the Wizards in town, Liz wanted to fill her fix for DC sports, and I wanted to see Gilbert, so we decided to catch a game at "The World's Most Famous Arena."

Madison Square. The Garden. MSG. It doesn't matter what you call it, say any of those to a sports fan and they know exactly what you mean. MSG may technically stand for Madison Square Garden, but in reality, it stands for a lot more.

MSG stands for New York City. The Garden that is standing now was built in 1968, but the history of Madison Square Garden goes back to the late 1800s. As New York City grew, developed, changed, so did MSG.

MSG stands for music. It isn't just a sports arena. MSG has been home to many non-athletic events as well, including music. The Garden is quite the concert hall, a stopping point of many major tours and big-time acts. In fact, Billy Joel has his number retired, the only non-athlete to gain that honor (he was honored with the number 12 after playing his record 12th concert at MSG in 2006). Bruce Springsteen must be pissed... he has played 11 concerts at MSG, but there is only one "11" hanging in the rafters (more about that later).

MSG stands for boxing. In it's earliest sporting days, boxing was what The Garden was known for. It has been home to many famous fights, but none more than the historic Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier bouts. Big time boxing may have moved to Las Vegas, but The Garden will always be known for the historic fights that took place in boxing's glory days.

MSG stands for hockey. The New York Rangers are one of the NHL's most known teams. Sure, they've got four of Lord Stanley's Cups. And they also have four retired numbers (including the "11" that Bruce will never have, but not counting the league-wide retirement of the Great One's "99"). But part of the allure of the Rangers is the fact that they play in Madison Square Garden.

But for me, most of all, MSG stands for basketball. As I walked into MSG for the first time, I heard the NBA on NBC theme song playing in my head. During the glory days of the NBA, or at least my glory days, so many of the great memories took place at The Garden. LJ. The brawl. The choke. MJ. Starks. Before my time, there were even greater moments and players that came through MSG. The Knicks, as awful as they are now (although there are few bright spots for the future), are one of the NBA's greatest franchises, with two titles in the 1970s, 9 retired numbers (including Clyde, The Pearl, Willis Reed, Bill Bradley, and Patrick Ewing), 10 Hall of Famers, and one famous fan. But MSG is also home to college basketball, hosting the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, the occasional St. John's game, and countless NCAA Tournament games.

It wasn't Reggie, Smits, and the Davis's vs. Ewing, Starks, Mason, and Oakley. It was Arenas, Jamison, and Butler vs. Marbury, Francis, and Curry. Not quite the same appeal. But walking through those doors, looking at the banners, and seeing Spike Lee complain to the officials more than Isiah Thomas made me appreciate where I was. It was a great way to honor the nation's most famous arena. It may not have been MJ, and it may have been the least attended game in 14 years, but in a quirky way, it was a great look at sports history.

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