Sunday, April 11, 2010

More MSG, Please!

From the Parkville Luminary

NEW YORK--This must be what it feels like when a lover of musical theater makes her first trip to Broadway or the West End. Or, perhaps this feeling is akin to the warm glow a barbeque enthusiast must get when he first steps foot into culinary nirvana at Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque.

I’ve got that cloud-nine feeling myself, but it has nothing to do with musicals or ribs. (Random thought—why not a musical about ribs, featuring a saucy chorus line?) No, I’m all aglow and atwitter (not the cyber kind) thanks to a recent visit to a personal bucket-list destination, the kind of place that is a must see for someone of my persuasion. My persuasion, my passion, is college basketball. Thus, my mecca is the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden.

For the uninitiated, MSG (the arena’s owners do not support use of this abbreviation) has been the undisputed king of college basketball for decades. It plays host to St. John’s University games as well as a number of special events like the Jimmy V classic. Those who have played and coached at MSG are too numerous to mention, but constitute college hoops royalty.

There have been four buildings bearing the MSG name, and the current one, which seats 19,763 for basketball, opened in 1968. ( )

MSG’s most famous college hoops tournament is the National Invitation Tournament, which began in 1938, one year before the NCAA tournament. For many years, it was the more prestigious of the two, but today is derided as the Not Invited Tournament, since those not good enough to get invited to the NCAA tourney end up at the NIT as a consolation prize.

Despite its diminished luster, I jumped at the chance to attend the recent NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden, since I had never been there before.

My visit to college hoops heaven actually began a stone’s-throw away from the arena at a local restaurant and watering hole. Like any serious college hoops junkie, I know that at most college events, beer isn’t served, so I figured I’d have a couple before I entered the arena. The “bahw” was filled with loud, fist-bumping, f-bomb dropping eastern guys that are so frequently, and in this case accurately, portrayed in the movies. Avoiding these guys, I got a good spot near the TV, and enjoyed a few libations ($4 pints=almost free in NYC).

My upper lip now sufficiently stiff, I walked one block to the arena in the equivalent of a monsoon. I love you, New York, but you can keep your damned nor’easters. These storms do not mess around, and I come from Kansas, where we know and respect nasty weather.

I walked silently and reverently into MSG, awestruck. Now, there’s nothing especially extraordinary about the building itself. (The same can be said of old Yankee stadium, which was a real dump). Still, you can almost feel the ghosts inside MSG, hear the crowd, and see the buzzer-beaters from generations past. I slowly promenaded entirely around MSG, trying to notice every little detail. First, it seemed surprisingly small to me. There isn’t one giant concourse, instead, there are multiple levels, each with a smaller enclosed concourse just serving that one section. This contributes to a sense of intimacy. I also loved the banners hanging from the ceiling, most of which celebrate ancient Knicks or Rangers titles. My favorite banner said “Lou Carnasecca—526”, for the impressive number of wins rung up by the former St. John’s coach.

Even if there had been no basketball, I would’ve gotten my money’s worth out of my visit to MSG by just looking around. This is a good thing, since the NIT semifinals that night really stunk. Yes, the games (Mississippi-Dayton; North Carolina-Rhode Island) were tight and competitive, but it didn’t take a college basketball junkie to see why these four were not invited to the NCAA tournament. Carolina was by far the most athletic of the semifinalists, but played very erratically, good only for a few minutes at a time. It’s clear how they lost 16 games this season.

Even with the mediocre basketball, I consider my trip to MSG a rousing success. Next up on my mecca list: visits behind the scenes at the New York Times; to the most expensive, snottiest, highest rated restaurant in Paris; and to the Oval Office. No beer before my White House visit, I promise.

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