Sad news for basketball historians: Madison Square Garden will likely have to move within the next ten years due to a New York City Council vote in favor of redeveloping Pennsylvania Station. Barring further political developments and potential extended deadlines, the New York Knicks will be playing in a new arena by the 2023/24 season.
The Garden, which opened in its current location in 1968, is shrouded in basketball history. It has played host to four NBA Finals, ten Conference Finals, and every basketball great from Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant.
It has witnessed the Willis Reed game, Jordan’s Double Nickel, Reggie Miller’s 8 points in 9 seconds, LJ’s 4-point play, the Dunk, and an untold number of unspeakably brilliant starting lineup introductions by the finest public address announcer in the history of sports:
It is the last great old-school NBA arena still in use. The Forum (1967-1999), the Boston Garden (1946-1995), Chicago Stadium (1967-1994) and the Spectrum (1967-1996) are all long gone. As Bryant stated on the night he broke the building’s scoring record with 61 points (with yours truly in attendance): “You want to play well here. The building is special because it is the last one left. This is the last one that holds all the memories of all the great players.”
The fan experience at the Garden is a special one. The arena oozes character. It looks, smells, feels, and sounds different to the generic multi-purpose arenas that have been built in recent years. The dimmed lights, the iconic old ceiling, the curiously blue and purple colored seats, the stale aroma, and the impeccable MSG organ are all instantly recognizable.
To boot, the Knicks fans that inhabit the place are among the loudest, most knowledgeable and spontaneous fanbases in American pro sports. It is one of the very few arenas where you will consistently hear anything more than a basic jumbotron-prompted “De-fense” or “Let’s go (team X)” chant. There is no guarantee that the same atmosphere will translate to the Knicks’ next home.
It is with all this in mind then that basketball fans should feel compelled to take in a game at the current MSG – described by Jordan as the Mecca of Basketball – at least once before it closes its doors.
Incidentally, the Garden has undergone a $1 billion privately funded renovation project over the last three years to modernize its facilities – an investment by owner James Dolan that now looks woefully ill-conceived. Some Knicks fans are hoping that the silver lining to this news is that it may anger Dolan and force him to sell the team. They should be so lucky.