The last time the Knicks won a playoff game:
- Vince Carter was a rising superstar for their opponent, the Toronto Raptors
- Carter started alongside Alvin Williams, Antonio Davis, Charles Oakley, and Chris Childs
- Mark Jackson, rather than repeatedly telling his mother where men are going, played point guard for the Knicks
- Dell Curry was not yet “father of Stephen,” but “lights-out shooter and defensive liability off the Toronto bench”
- Curry shared the Raptors bench with, among others, Keon Clark and Jerome “The Junkyard Dog” Williams
- I was in eighth grade, presumably trying to attract girls by growing a splendid peach fuzz mustache
- Allan Houston had not yet signed the most franchise-crippling contract in NBA history
- Isiah Thomas had not yet decided Jerome James was worth $30 million
- Kurt Thomas was still young
Indeed, it’s been a long time since the Knickerbockers last won a playoff game. The Celtics hope that drought doesn’t end tonight, when 20,000+ New York fans—rabid due to the team’s recent lack of success, craving a victory like Michael Sweetney desperately searches for his next chocolate cake, trying to finally wipe away the pain and tears of the Isiah Thomas era—should make the Madison Square Garden ceiling quiver while celebrating playoff basketball’s return to New York.
“I’m pretty sure it will be crazy,” Carmelo Anthony said. “I think crazy is an understatement but that’s the word I’m going to use right now.”
Say what you want about Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, but they’ve brought excitement back to the so-called Mecca of Basketball. They’ve re-energized a fan base that had been reduced to begging prospective free agents. They’ve brought Spike Lee back to the playoffs. They’ve re-kindled memories of Reggie Miller’s choke sign and Willis Reed’s triumphant return, of Grandmama’s four-point play and John Starks dunking somewhere in the vicinity of Michael Jordan. They won’t win a championship this season, I think it’s safe to say. There’s very little chance they even get past the Celtics. But Madison Square Garden will once again be rocking tonight.
“They’re going to be hostile. They’re going to be raucous. They’re going to be excited,” said Ray Allen. “Regardless of who’s on their team, they’ll just be like, ‘We’re in the playoffs! We’re here.’ I’ve been on a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs in a long time, and when you make it, it’s big for what it does for your fan base, what it does for your city.”
And when that city is New York, it’s a big deal. I’m cautious about calling Madison Square Garden “The Mecca of Basketball.” Something about attributing that nickname to the home of the Knicks, who have won only two championships in 65 years of existence, seems wrong. But there’s no denying the history there. Not just the Knicks, either. Back when CCNY was a college powerhouse and the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) crowned NCAA basketball’s true champion, the Garden etched itself into the annals of basketball lore. And it’s not just the history. In New York City, the spotlight shines brighter than it does anywhere else.
Normally, I wouldn’t care about the media spotlight a city provides. I care about basketball, not “the way people who are paid to react to basketball react to basketball.” In a way, though, and bear with me here, the bright lights might also affect the level of play. Reggie Miller made love to pressure, so is it crazy to believe he saved his best for when the pressure was highest, for when he knew more people were watching? If the Knicks played in Podunk, would Kobe Bryant have gone Roger Maris (61 points) two seasons ago? Keep in mind, this was a more team-oriented Kobe who scored 61, not the “kill everybody and ask questions later” Kobe of the Smush Parker era. Would Lebron James have tried to one-up Bryant with his 52-point, 11-assist, 9-rebound show just two days later? Stars know New York’s different, that Madison Square Garden’s different. Score 55 points against the Orlando Magic, and that’s cool. Score 55 points in Madison Square Garden and your “Double Nickel” will be remembered forever.
Madison Square Garden provides a greater stage, perhaps the greatest stage, for basketball. I’m not calling it the world’s greatest arena and I’m still afraid to call it The Mecca of Basketball. But when playoff basketball returns to the Garden tonight, the NBA will be a better place, and I wouldn’t be surprised if more history gets made.