To all the places whose populace thinks that their hometown is the true epicenter of the basketball world, to those who occupy places from Lawrence, Kansas, to Bloomington, Indiana, to Springfield, Massachusetts, I have a simple message: your town is not! That is, unless you are a New Yorker.
From the famed cage at West 4th street in Greenwich Village to the courts at Rucker Park in Harlem, America’s biggest city breathes basketball like no place anywhere else in the world. And don’t be fooled by the fact that New York doesn’t seem to worship the sport the way college towns and a few NBA towns (see: Oklahoma City) across the nation do. New York is a city for everything. And it does everything better than everywhere else, from sports to theater to food to the awful smells of trash and sewage that permeate almost every block. And when it comes to athletics, basketball is king in NYC. You see, the top sport in the top sporting city in the world is and always will be basketball.
The teams of the city haven’t always had great success. Even the city’s best college basketball program, the one at St. John’s, has sputtered recently (although the Red Storm do have a bright future and were elite throughout the 80s and 90s). The Columbia Lions also perpetually appear over matched by their Ivy League opponents. Up in the Bronx, Fordham went 7-24 this past season! And then there’s the Knicks who, despite their advantages, only have a measly two NBA championships. Another model of mediocrity in past years, the cross-town Nets, didn’t win a single championship in their New Jersey days from 1977 to 2012.
But let us focus on what New York does have. It is a city with great fans who show up at games in droves, rep their teams on the street with their apparel, and hit the court to sharpen their not-so NBA quality games.
The city is also home to shrines of the game, and I don’t just mean the hallowed blacktops already mentioned. At the heart of the city is the appropriately nicknamed “Mecca of Basketball” (a phrase also often attributed to the city as a whole), Madison Square Garden. For the past half century, MSG has been the home of the NBA as well as the Big East Conference in the world of college hoops. NBA legends from Elgin Baylor to MJ and current stars like Lebron and Kobe all earned their stripes with transcendent performances at the world’s most famous arena. Indeed, every great in the history of the NBA has relished their time on the NBA’s biggest stage.
Also, as the host arena for the greatest basketball conference ever, the Garden has also seen its fair share of great college games, including a certain six overtime thriller a few years ago.
About five miles south of MSG is the brand new, shiny, and extremely tall Barclays Center, the home of the Nets. While I can nitpick about Barclays being an entertainment-first venue pretending to be a basketball-first venue, there is no denying that there is a lot in place to allow the Nets to become one of the league’s best franchises. The Barclays Center will be the home of Nets basketball for a long, long, long time.
The polar opposite of Barclays Center would be the character-rich gem of a gym that is Fordham’s Rose Hill Gymnasium. The 3,740 seat gym, affectionately known as “the prairie” is college basketball’s oldest arena. (It beats Harvard’s Lavietes Pavilion by a year.)
From brand new basketball palaces to old-timey gyms, New York has it all.
Here we are now, entering the first weekend of May 2013. It’s just one weekend. But boy, it’s a big one for basketball. Especially in NYC.
Two NBA playoff games will be played.
The first will be played on Saturday night between the Nets and Bulls. To get to this point, the Brooklyn Nets pushed past a Bulls team ravaged by sickness and injuries on Thursday night despite a herculean effort from the Bulls’ Nate Robinson. (At this point, can’t we all just call him “Nate the Great”?) The Nets were once down 3-1 in this series, but now have the home court advantage and the momentum going into game seven. In front of what should be an electric Barclays Center crowd, these two teams will do battle for a chance to play the mighty Miami Heat.
Earlier on Saturday, the Knicks will return home after their first playoff series win since 2000. To finish round one, the Knickerbockers survived an all out onslaught from the feisty Celtics in the fourth quarter of game six , sealing the series with an eight point win.
Having taken down the gutsy and spirited C’s, the ‘Bockers should feel good about what they can do going forward. They will play the Pacers on Sunday at MSG. You can bet that the garden will be rocking for the first Knicks second round home game in so long.
For one weekend in May, the whole NBA world will be “in a New York state of mind” as New York once again shall be the cynosure of the basketball universe. And that’s how it is supposed to be.