NEW YORK – As I walked through Madison Square Garden out onto the floor for the Sweet 16, I heard a group of Baylor cheerleaders talking behind me. One explained to the group, “Madison Square Garden is the world’s most famous arena.”
Great branding by MSG — no thanks to its professional basketball tenant.
Quick, name the most exciting Knicks moment at the Garden of the last 10 years. Does it involve Jeremy Lin? There was the brief glimmer of Knicks Tape. A couple Porzingis putback dunks. Even when history is made at MSG, it’s being made by LeBron, or Kobe, or Steph. Or in the case of the Knicks, it’s simply made for ineptitude, like when Charles Oakley famously got kicked out of the arena by James Dolan’s security team in February.
Henrik Lundqvist may have more signature moments by himself in the last decade than the Knicks as a team. It’s crazy to think, and even crazier to be made true, but the Knicks have become the Clippers of their own building.
Yet the Garden remains the Mecca of basketball, spoken about in hushed tones with the kind of reverence usually reserved for sports franchises that actually, you know, win.
I asked South Carolina point guard Rakym Felder, who played high school ball in Brooklyn, about the atmosphere for their Sweet 16 game vs. Baylor. The energy was electric from the tip (You can sometimes hear “Cocks” cheers at the Garden, but they’re not normally supportive).
“Just amazing,” Felder said, as his Gamecocks would eventually play their way into their first Final Four and a trip to Phoenix. “You dream of playing in this arena as a little kid. Just being on this stage – in the Elite 8 – it’s just amazing. All the historical moments here. All the amazing games been played here. All sorts of sports.”