In the old days, the Garden was at 8th Ave and 50th. That’s where Willis Reed came out of the tunnel and blew the roof off Madison Square Garden. If you were in that crowd on that night, you would be telling everybody you knew about that moment for the rest of your life…the moment was so big you just couldn’t keep it inside you. To this day, people will argue about details like what did Dave DeBusschere say to “Dollar Bill” Bradley when Willis Reed came out of the tunnel onto the floor.
I had a “spectator moment” like that in 1955…wow, am I that old? My father asked me if I wanted to go to the World Series at Yankee Stadium to see the Yankees play the Dodgers. Carl Erskine pitching for Brooklyn. Casey Stengel takes Joe Collins out at first base puts forty-year-old Johnny Mize in. He seems to hit the ball out of the park with every swing except Carl Furillo saves the day by circus catches.
The Dodgers won that game and the 1955 World Series. Their only Championship in Brooklyn.
Jackie Robinson, Number 42, was there; and I was there too because my father brought me. And I’m still talking about it. My father was a teacher and a coach. He loved sports because he thought it often brought out the best in people. Try as hard as you can and get ready to play the next game.
That’s what sports can be when time, place and larger than life characters intersect to determine who’s who and what’s what. How can you beat the Garden? It’s NYC, baby…they ain’t going to play da game in Bluefield, WV. I know, I spent two weeks there…don’t ask.
Yeah, yeah, the Garden is over by Penn Station now…don’ worry about it is bigger better and its New York City, BabyCakes. New York makes a statement…I remember when I hated New York. Then Joe Torre and Derek Jeter came to town and a guy named Mariano Rivera and you remember the Jeter side arm toss ….out….and guess who coached the Knicks….Pat Riley….so I gave up “anybody but the yankees” to loving the Knicks.
Don’t tell me I’m switching sports. I’m writing this thing not Gabby Hayes….
There is some magnificent basketball being played right now. It’s called Playoff Basketball. I’m all in for the Knicks who are one game down against the Miami Heat. The Heat are coached by Erik Spoelstra. Pat Riley, formerly with Magic and Kareem and Kobe Bryant (RIP) in LA is President of the Heat and coached the Knicks not that long ago…but it makes perfect sense in a hard to believe kind of way…. chalk it up to the “pull”…New York pulls you in. I’m looking out at the Hudson River as we speak.
The Building can help but you gotta have a Product and your team is your product. Knicks had to go through Cleveland to get to the matchup they are in now. Now, they have a coach who loves them and demands that they play hard every night for each other. His name is Thomas Thibodeau. He looks like a slightly overweight plumber but he’s known throughout the league.
All he wants from his players is give the team, “all that they have.” You will hear that from THIBS, constantly, especially when he speaks about Julius Randle, an unusual player, who will change the game by off the charts effort…you can’t explain it…you have to see it. Randle is a THIBS player…everybody in the National Basketball Association knows what a “THIBS” player is.
Meanwhile, fairly high in the stands you will often see two figures sitting together. They are invariably well dressed they don’t cheer but they are intently engaged in the game. Say hello to Pat Riley and Alonzo Mourning. They are almost an intimating force just by their presence. Dark suit and necktie for both Pat and Alonzo…both are Basketball Royalty. They are in New York. Show respect.
Pat has to be over 78 now, but still looks like a million bucks like when he brought Show time to LA with Magic Johnson. Pat would remind his players that he wanted a certain level of toughness by sticking his own fist through a blackboard…just for emphasis. The presence of Alonso Mourning, one of the toughest players wherever he played, along with Riley make a statement by their presence.
They talk about Heat Culture. It’s about everything. How you carry yourself and go about playing the game treating your teammates and living your life. And, to top it off, nobody on the Heat Team exemplifies, Heat Culture, better than Jimmy Butler who wins basketball games by being smarter and tougher for longer than anybody else on the court…and he learned it all from THIBS and Riley who used to coach the Knicks at the Garden.
Game 2 is coming up. The Knicks used only eight players in the opener. The Heat used 10. The Knicks are tired but they’ll “give everything they have.” They are warriors to the end. The Heat have more depth but Jimmy Butler rolled his ankle near the end of the game. It was ugly. It looked like his foot was at right angles to his leg.
When the press asked Butler how his ankle felt he said “it feels like a rolled ankle.” He was smiling.
No way Jimmy Butler misses a playoff game in the Garden. I got him down for 30 minimum.
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