Big East Week: A Love Letter to the Garden

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The Garden is the Mecca of basketball, no doubt about it. Other arenas have more banners hanging in the rafters, and maybe provide more intimidating environments for opposing teams, but they aren’t the Mecca. (Stefano Brivio/Flickr Creative Commons)

This week, Daily Campus Sports remembers the nostalgic highs of the old BIG EAST Conference, while also asking ‘where did it all go wrong?’ This is Big East Week.

The greatest sporting venue on Earth is located in New York City, or more specifically, in the borough of Manhattan, between 7th and 8th Avenues from 31st to 33rd Streets. It sits atop Pennsylvania Station and down the street from the Empire State Building.

It’s ironic, in a sporting market known for overpriced monoliths and drab remakes of greater buildings, that the Garden bucks that trend. Built in 1964, the arena has gone through two significant and costly renovations (1989-1991, 2011-2013) but hasn’t lost a single ounce of its charm.

Doubly ironic, of course, because its tenants seemingly do nothing but lose. The New York Rangers have only won one Cup since 1940, despite a bunch of impressive playoff runs this millennium. The New York Knicks christened the building with titles in 1970 and 1973, but all they have to show for it since is a pair of 90s conference titles.

In fact, it’s often the visitors that give the Garden its most iconic moments. In the NBA, we have Michael Jordan’s 55 points nine days after coming back; Reggie Miller’s eight points in nine seconds; Stephen Curry’s coming out party in 2013; and Kobe’s 61.

(Credit is due to the Knicks for holding their own building scoring record, thanks to Carmelo Anthony’s 62-point outburst in Jan. 2014).

And perhaps no visitors have given the Garden a more memorable set of moments than the members of the Big East, many of which who have moved on to play their conference tournaments in less exciting locations.

UConn has been a participant, willing or unwilling, in many great moments: Ray Allen’s heroics against Georgetown, six overtimes between Syracuse and the Huskies and the Kemba Walker stepback game-winner that shook Gary McGhee out of his shoes.

The Garden is the Mecca of basketball, no doubt about it. Other arenas have more banners hanging in the rafters, and maybe provide more intimidating environments for opposing teams, but they aren’t the Mecca. And on that second point, no building shakes quite like the Garden when the Knicks are remotely relevant; watch some Kristaps Porzingis highlights and you’ll see.

It’s hard to put a finger on it. I’ve admired the Garden from a distance for a long time before I went there for the first time as a fan for Kanye West’s “Saint Pablo” tour in fall 2016. I was excited the show was being at held at MSG, rather than the Barclays Center, but the arena isn’t a selling point. I’ll see Kanye in a McDonald’s bathroom.

But walking out of the concourse and staring out at the floor, there is a certain aura in the air, and whether that’s because humanity sometimes assigns holistic meaning to certain places because of their history is beside the point. I felt something, damn it. That building spoke to me.

Flash forward a few months, and I’m back there to watch UConn take on Syracuse in the Tire Pros Classic. UConn was in the midst of a disappointing season, and Syracuse was following up poorly on a surprise Final Four run. The rivalry was not at its heights, and with conference affiliation out the window, will probably never reach those heights again.

That night, the Huskies won a truly awful basketball game, by the score of 52-50, on a pair of late free throws due to a questionable call. Whatever. When I think back to memorable basketball games, that Garden showdown sits at the top. Who cares if I’m a Nets fan and don’t have many other games in my personal pantheon; that game stunk.

I can’t explain it with a logical series of words and sentences and not sound like a crazy person. When the Eiffel Tower was completed, the French hated it. I hate the Knicks. Both the Eiffel Tower and Madison Square Garden are iconic, regardless of opinions, because they just are.

I also love the Eiffel Tower, by the way.


Tyler Keating is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at tyler.keating@uconn.edu. He tweets @tylerskeating.

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