By Eddie Mayrose
Knicks and Johnnies Bring Life Back to World’s Most Famous Arena
After the Golden State Warriors visited Madison Square Garden on November 10th and beat up a defenseless Knicks squad that saw its record drop to 3-8, it seemed as if the faithful were in for another terrible season of basketball on 32nd St. and 7th Ave. Making matters more painful was that this was the year that Knicks’ brass had targeted for a turnaround. But, they’d failed to land either LeBron James or Chris Bosh during the offseason and, worse, were floating the idea of bringing back Isiah Thomas; the very face of the debacle that had been the last decade. A playoff berth, let alone a championship run, seemed like a fantasy.
Around the same time, I was discussing the decline of the St. John’s basketball program with Nolan Adams, assistant men’s basketball coach at the College of Mount Saint Vincent who opened my eyes with a comment that was both obvious and unbelievable at the same time. When I suggested that the downfall of both Mike Jarvis and Norm Roberts was their failure to recruit kids from New York city, he pointed out that there was now, “… an entire generation of players that has never known St. John’s as a basketball power.” It was a sad realization, but true nonetheless. No one under the age of 20 would have seen the legendary Big East battles between the Johnnies and Georgetown, Syracuse or Villanova. None would have watched them in a NCAA tournament game and, certainly, never have followed a St. John ’s alum through the first round of the draft and into the NBA.
Since then, however, both the Knicks and the Red Storm have turned everything around. Amar’e Stoudemire has carried a cast of solid role players into playoff contention in the Eastern Conference while Steve Lavin has overseen the rebirth of the Red Storm. The renaissance was never more apparent than last week when the Knicks knocked off James and the Heat only to have that feat surpassed by the Johnnies’ thrashing of nationally ranked Duke on Sunday afternoon. Yes, kids, that’s exactly how the Garden used to rock.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of both stories is that the best is yet to come. Lavin is working his magic with ten seniors he inherited from Roberts and has already signed six recruits rated in the top 75 high school players by ESPN. The Knicks still have plenty of cap room, certainly enough to sign Carmelo Anthony this summer; a much more prudent course to follow than parting with Landry Fields and/or Wilson Chandler in order to get him now. Add the Nuggets’ All Star to the existing cast of characters to begin next season, however, and now we’re talking a true return to glory. Maybe then, finally, it’ll be your father’s Madison Square Garden once again.