People say, sometimes very loosely, that the Madison Square Garden is the Mecca of basketball.
The Garden is home of the New York Knicks, a team that hasn’t won an NBA title since 1973. How can their home court be so relevant considering they have such a poor recent history? Would it be because of the influence caused by New York’s media, the largest market in sports? Maybe, but I think there’s something else.
Throughout the years the fans in New York have learned to appreciate basketball more than any other fanbase in the world. The way the crowd cheers for their home team but is also able to appreciate good basketball when it is due makes the Garden the perfect place to hold an NBA game. The overwhelming atmosphere and energy that emanates from the stands is something every sports fan should experience at least once in their lives.
Recently, Knicks rookie Thanasis Antetokounmpo faced a difficult decision after being told he was not going to be signed by the franchise this summer: He could either spend a year in Europe, making hundreds of thousands of dollars, or he could sign with the Development League and play for the Westchester Knicks. He chose the latter.
Antetokounmpo had the chance of a lifetime to play overseas and make a lot of money, but he chose to take an enormous pay cut just so he could be closer to the Garden and have the chance to be called up from the D-League to fill up any eventual roster openings.
Had he been drafted by the Utah Jazz or the Milwaukee Bucks, would his decision have been different? No disrespect to any of those franchises, but I believe so. He would have taken the money, played a year in Europe and would still have been able to come back to the NBA when the time was right. Any young guy eager to prove himself would have made that decision in order to show everyone he has what it takes to make it into professional sports, even if it’s not in the NBA.
Fortunately for the Knicks, he is not one of those young guys. He chose to stay close to home and have a short-term opportunity to play in front of the best basketball fanbase in the world, and I think that says a lot about the Knicks and the Garden.
Michael Jordan, arguably the best player to ever step on a basketball court, said that the Garden was the Mecca of basketball multiple times during his career and made sure to restate the same yesterday when interviewed while attending Roger Federer‘s tennis match. Per the NY Post: “ The Garden was the Mecca, and playing at the Garden, they appreciated the way you play the game.”
Who am I to question the greatest of all time?
I have no doubt that Antetokounmpo made the right decision and that the Garden deserves all the praises it gets.