The New York Knickerbockers, or Knicks for short, open away to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday, October 28; and have their home opener the next night, against the Atlanta Hawks. The team formerly known as the New Jersey Americans, the New York Nets and the New Jersey Nets, now the Brooklyn Nets, also open on the 28th, home to the Chicago Bulls.
Since the Knicks are the more popular club, I'll start with them.
Before You Go. In New York and North Jersey, anything is possible as far as the weather goes, but since you'll be mainly indoors, and you'll probably be taking the Subway to The Garden, it won't be nearly as much of an issue as it would be going to Yankee Stadium, Citi Field or MetLife Stadium.
It's the Eastern Time Zone, so you don't have to worry about fiddling with your timepieces if you actually are a Knicks fan, or a fan of any of the teams in the East visiting them. It's 1 hour ahead of the Central Time Zone, 2 hours ahead of Mountain, and 3 hours ahead of Pacific.
Tickets. This is a big question mark. Of course, you should have your tickets purchased online before you go. Buying a ticket from a scalper in front of The Garden is nearly always a bad idea. Even if you can afford it, the principle of the thing should prevent you from doing so.
That said, the Knicks up-and-down recent history means that tickets could well be available to most games. You're going to find it tough to get seats to see LeBron James and the Miam-- I mean, the Cleveland Cavaliers. And to see Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. But most other teams shouldn't be automatic sellouts. And, thus far, the Nets' move to Brooklyn hasn't drummed up much interest in a rivalry with the Knicks, so even those games (at least, at The Garden) should be available.
The Knicks averaged 19,812 fans per game last season, a sellout, but a lot of those tickets sold late. And, since I'm doing this a few days before the regular season starts, and you have 41 home dates from which to choose, you should be able to get to see a good game or two, if not the specific games you want.
Even without scalpers getting involved, Knicks tickets are notoriously expensive. Courtside seats run $772 -- and that's on Ticketmaster, not from a scalper. 100 Level seats run $306 between the baskets and $158 behind them. 200 Level seats cost $152. 300 Level seats are $141 between the baskets and $130 behind them. 400 Level seats -- once known as "the Blue Seats" for the color of their paint, the color of the air due to all the cigarette smoke that used to be allowed inside but is no longer, and the color of the language that tended to emanate from the patrons -- go for $74.
Getting There. For reasons that will soon become clear, I'm advising you to get to New York/New Jersey by a means other than driving: Plane, train, bus. Hotels in the City are ridiculously expensive, and you may be better off getting a hotel outside, in New Jersey or Westchester or Long Island; adding the cost of public transportation -- New Jersey Transit, Metro-North or the Long Island Rail Road -- will still be cheaper than most Manhattan hotels.
Madison Square Garden was built on top of Pennsylvania Station, the northern (or eastern) anchor of the old Pennsylvania Railroad. If you live near any Amtrak station, you can get to The Garden. This is especially true if you live in a city on the Northeast Corridor, from Boston to Washington: In 5 hours or less, you can get from your hometown to The Garden.
7th Avenue entrance to Penn Station and The Garden
Because of its attachment to Penn Station, The Garden is also accessible by commuter rail, both New Jersey Transit and the LIRR; and by multiple Subway lines: The 8th Avenue lines, the A, C and E; the 7th Avenue lines, the 1, 2 and 3; and, a block away at 6th Avenue, the 6th Avenue lines, the B, D and F; the Broadway lines, N, Q and R; and the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) system from New Jersey.
If you came into The City on a Greyhound bus, Port Authority Bus Terminal is at 42nd Street and 8th Avenue, just 1 stop on the A, C or E train from The Garden, whose station is listed as "34th St - Penn Station."
Once In the City. The city of New Amsterdam, and the colony of New Netherland, was founded by the Dutch in 1624. In 1664, the English took over, and named both city and colony New York, for the Duke of York, brother of King Charles II. As none of Charles' many children were legitimate, when he died in 1685, that brother became King James II -- and his reign did not end well, and let's leave it at that.
New York County, a.k.a. the Borough of Manhattan, was also named for James. "Manahatta" was an Indian word meaning "island of many hills." Kings County was named for King Charles, but the Dutch name Breuckelen stuck, and it became the City, and after 1898 the Borough, of Brooklyn. Queens County, or the Borough of Queens, was named for King Charles' Portuguese wife, Catherine of Braganza. Richmond County was named for one of Charles' sons, Charles Lennox, Earl of Richmond, but the Dutch name Staaten Eylandt stuck, and it became the Borough of Staten Island. And Jonas Bronck settled the land north of Manhattan, which became known as Bronck's Land, which somehow morphed into "The Bronx." Apparently, the "The" became attached because of the Bronx River that passes through it, as rivers are still frequently called that: The Hudson is, although never "The Harlem" or "The East." Anyway, it's the Borough of The Bronx and Bronx County.
When the British occupied Manhattan after driving George Washington's Continental Army out in 1776, they burned it, and this is why there are very few remaining pre-19th Century buildings anywhere in the City (unlike such other Revolutionary-era cities as Boston and Philadelphia). After the British went home, the City's port, and location between 2 rivers, made it the richest in the Western Hemisphere, and was a big reason why America became a world power over the next 200 years.
New York has been the most populous city in America since surpassing Philadelphia in the post-Revolutionary period, and now has about 8.4 million people living in the Five Boroughs. About 23 million live in the New York Metropolitan Area, a.k.a. the New York Tri-State Area.
The City is also part of "the New York Metropolitan Area" or "the New York Tri-State Area," which includes parts of New York State not in the City (such as Long Island, Nassau and Suffolk Counties; and the Lower Hudson Valley, such as Westchester County) and the States of New Jersey and Connecticut.
New York has a street grid, but doesn't quite follow a centerpoint system. For the east-west numbered Streets in Manhattan, below Washington Square Park, Broadway is the divider between the East Side and the West Side; above Washington Square to the Harlem River, it's 5th Avenue; in The Bronx, it's Jerome Avenue.
North of 14th Street, streets will be a bit easier to navigate, as they will follow the 1811 grid plan. South of 14th Street, you may end up as confused, as this oldest part of the City doesn't always pay attention to the grid. If you're a comic book fan, there's a running gag that Metropolis, hometown of the optimistic superhero Superman, is Manhattan north of 14th Street on a beautiful spring day; while Gotham City, hometown of the brooding crimefighter Batman, is Manhattan south of 14th Street, a few minutes after midnight, on a cold rainy day in November.
In the grid, Manhattan has (almost exclusively) numbered streets running (more or less) east-west, and (mostly) numbered avenues running (more or less) north-south. The numbered streets go up to 264th Street in The Bronx. Brooklyn and Queens also have numbered streets and numbered avenues, but they're a lot more confusing; when someone in New York says, "34th Street" or "5th Avenue," 95 percent of the time, they'll mean the one in Manhattan.
"Lower Manhattan" or "Downtown" is pretty much everything south of 14th Street, including Houston Street (pronounced HOW-stin, not HYOO-stin like the Texas city), which is, effectively, Zero Street. "Uptown" is pretty much everything in Manhattan north of 59th Street, from the southern edge of Central Park upward. "Midtown" is between 14th and 59th, and is where most of the touristy stuff is.
On the East Side, the Avenues go 5th, Madison, Park (which takes the place of 4th Avenue above Union Square), Lexington, 3rd, 2nd, 1st, York, East End. Numbered Streets will reach an address of 1 at 5th, 100 at Park, 200 at 3rd, 300 at 2nd, 400 at 1st. On the Lower East Side, this extends to 500 at Avenue A, 600 at Avenue B, 700 at Avenue C and 800 at Avenue D. (A, B, C and D, hence the nickname for this neighborhood: "Alphabet City.") The Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive, a.k.a. the FDR Drive, formerly the East River Drive and once so dangerous it was said that FDR stood for "Falling Down Roadway," separates the island from the East River.
On the West Side, the Avenues go 6th, a.k.a. Avenue of the Americas, Lenox Avenue or Malcolm X Blvd. above Central Park; 7th, a.k.a. Fashion Avenue, or Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. above Central Park; 8th, Central Park West above 59th Street, or Frederick Douglass Blvd. above Central Park; 9th, Columbus Avenue above 59th, or Morningside Drive above 110th; 10th, Amsterdam Avenue above 59th; 11th, West End Avenue above 59th, merging with Broadway at 108th; and Riverside Drive. The West Side Highway, a.k.a. the Joe DiMaggio Highway, separates the island from the Hudson River.
The north-south numbered Avenues start with 1 at their southern ends, and the addresses go up going Uptown, but there's no set pattern (such as every X blocks = 100 house numbers), and they vary as to where they begin:
Broadway, The Battery at the island's southern tip; 1st and 2nd, Houston Street; 3rd, 9th Street; Lexington, 21st Street; Park, 32nd Street (Park Avenue South extends to 17th Street); Madison, 23rd Street (at Madison Square); 5th, Washington Square North (roughly, 6th Street); 6th, Franklin Street (the only numbered Avenue below Houston, so it's about -12th Street); 7th, 11th Street (7th Avenue South extends to Carmine Street, roughly at Houston or Zero); 8th, Bleecker Street (roughly 10th Street at that point); 9th, Gansevoort Street (roughly 12th Street); 10th and 11th, 13th Street; 12th, 22nd Street.
The outlier is Broadway, which starts at the southern tip of Manhattan (known as The Battery), and remains more or less straight until 10th Street, at which point it curves to (more or less) the northwest, until 78th Street, at which point it straightens out again. However, this northerly description I gave forces me to point out that, like 2nd, Lexington, 5th, 7th, 9th and 11th Avenues, Broadway traffic runs Downtown. The Uptown-running Avenues are 1st, 3rd, Madison, 6th, 8th and 10th. Park Avenue is the only one that goes both ways.
Where Broadway intersects with the numbered avenues, there are frequently "squares," although this does not accurately reflect the actual shapes of the intersections. These include:
* Union Square, at 14th Street and Park Avenue.
* Madison Square, at 23rd Street and 5th Avenue.
* Herald Square, at 34th Street and 6th Avenue.
* Times Square, at 42nd Street and 7th Avenue.
* Columbus Circle, at 59th Street and 8th Avenue.
The Subway system looks complicated, and it is. The blue lines (A, C & E), orange lines (B, D & F) and red lines (1, 2 & 3) are on the West Side; the green lines (4, 5 & 6) on the East Side; the yellow lines (N, Q & R) go from the East Side when Downtown to the West Side in Midtown, and then cross over to Queens. A single ride is $2.50, and you're better off getting a multi-ride MetroCard. There will be a $1.00 charge for a new card.
When you get to your hotel, Penn Station or Port Authority, if you have time to read, go to a Hudson News stand and pick up copies of The New York Times and the Daily News. Believe me, reading the New York papers on your computer or smartphone just isn't the same. In many ways, New York was a city built on newspapers, and there's nothing like turning the page of the Times or the Daily News to find another good story, especially the City features and the sports section, to get a feel for what people in The City are really thinking and feeling.
Don’t read the New York Post. Like anything owned by Rupert Murdoch, it’s a bunch of right-wing lies with an occasionally good sports section added. The Times and the Daily News, however, are not only manned by responsible journalists, but have great sports sections. The Times is the face New York City likes to show the rest of the world. The Daily News is the face the City prefers to show itself. The Post is a face only a mother could love. Not my mother, though. Nor hers.
The sales tax in New York City is 8.875 percent, in New Jersey 7 percent.
Going In. The 4th and current version of Madison Square Garden is 1 of 10 arenas shared by an NBA team and an NHL team. It has only one real entrance, and that's on the 7th Avenue side. You'll see giant posters referencing the current Knick and Ranger squads, and historic moments that occurred at The Garden. Besides those involving the home team, these include: The 1st fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier (the 2nd was also held there, but was far less significant because neither man then held the title), Nadia Comaneci performing the 1st perfect 10 in an international gymnastics meet (before doing it again later in the year at the Olympics at the Montreal Forum), and various concerts and political conventions.
The 100 and 200 Levels are now accessed by the Madison Concourse on the building's 6th Floor. The 300 and 400 Levels are accessed by the Garden Concourse on the 10th Floor. The old color system of red seats down below, white in the middle and blue up top is long gone. So is the system that replaced it, of purple seats in the 100 and 200 Levels and aquamarine in the 300 and 400s. They're all purple now. Fortunately, there really isn't a bad seat in the house, not even in the 400 Level, and the sound carries spectacularly well.
Food. Although New York is one of the world's great food cities, The Garden isn't exactly known for great food. There are specialty stands of interest, though. The 10th Floor has Garden Market between Towers B & C (on the 7th Avenue side), and the 6th Floor has one behind Sections 108 and 115.
Also on the 6th Floor, there is Carlos and Gabby's Kosher & Mexican Grill (I don't know whether to say, "Oy vey!" or "iAy caramba!") at 111, and Senzai Sushi at 118. Ice cream is available at 110, and 16 Handles Frozen Yogurt at 115. "Coffee and Deserts" are at 114.
Team History Displays. There used to be a "Madison Square Garden Hall of Fame," with the names listed on the marquee at the main doors on the 7th Avenue side. That was removed a few years ago. But the Knicks and Rangers still hang banners for their titles and their retired numbers. The Knicks banners are as follows:
NBA Championships: 1970 and 1973.
Conference Championships (other than the preceding): 1951, 1952, 1953, 1972, 1994 and 1999.
Division Championships (other than the preceding): 1971, 1989, 1993 and 2013.
In addition to those figures, there are other men associated with the Knicks in the Basketball Hall of Fame. All of the retired number honorees are in the Hall except Barnett.
The other Hall-of-Famers who can be said to have gotten in on the basis of their Knick tenures are: 1950s guard Richie Guerin (who wore 9, not a common number, so perhaps it should be retired), 1950s forward Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton (8, ditto, and also the 1st black Knick), 1950s forward Harry Gallatin, and 1980s forward Bernard King. Jerry Lucas, a star with the Cincinnati Royals most of his career, wrapped things up with the Knicks, and helped to win the 1973 title. Other Knicks who got into the Hall of Fame mainly based on what they did elsewhere include Tom Gola, Walt Bellamy, and coaches Hubie Brown, Rick Pitino and Larry Brown.
Frazier, Monroe, Reed, DeBusschere, Lucas and Ewing were named to the NBA's 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players.
The Garden is also home to the New York Liberty, winners of the WNBA's Eastern Conference in 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2002, but have never won a title. Teresa Weatherspoon, Becky Hammon and Cappie Pondexter -- but not Rebecca Lobo, oddly -- were named to the WNBA's 15th Anniversary 15 Greatest Players. None is with the team anymore. "T-Spoon" wore Number 11, which the Libs have listed as an "Honored Number," not a "Retired Number," and so there's no banner for it. But neither is it currently being worn. No banners for the Libs hang at The Garden.
In addition to the Knicks' and Rangers' banners, 2 music legends were honored with banners at The Garden: Bronx-born, Long Island-raised Billy Joel had a Number 12 banner, for the Garden record 12 straight sellout concerts he played in 2006; and Elton John, who had played The Garden more than any other musical performer, including for the 60th time on his 60th birthday, got a Number 60 banner for that occasion. He's now played it 64 times -- each and every one a sellout. However, Billy has now broken both records: 66, and 13 in a row, and has banners honoring those.
There aren't, however, banners honoring some other landmark concerts at The Garden, though some of these are mentioned at the entrance:
February 11, 1968: Frank Sinatra opened what was then officially called "The Madison Square Garden Center."
August 1, 1971: George Harrison hosted the Concert for Bangladesh, also including fellow ex-Beatle Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton. (While the Beatles did play New York on all 3 of their North American tours, they did not play the old Garden, which generally did not book rock and roll shows. Instead, they played Carnegie Hall, the Paramount Theater in Times Square, the Forest Hills tennis stadium in Queens and Shea Stadium twice.)
June 9 to 11, 1972: Elvis Presley became the 1st performer to sell out what was still being called "The New Garden" 3 times, and a 4th show was added.
August 30, 1972: John Lennon led the Plastic Ono Band at "The One to One Concert," a benefit for children with developmental disabilities, which was recorded for the album (and filmed for the movie) Live in New York City. It turned out to be his last full-length concert appearance. This is how big John was at that time: Stevie Wonder, already one of the greatest musical personalities of the 20th Century, opened for him.
July 27 to 29, 1973: Led Zeppelin played the shows that formed the concert film The Song Remains the Same.
November 28, 1974: Elton John played on Thanksgiving, and invited Lennon onto the stage with him to sing "Whatever Gets You Through the Night," "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "I Saw Her Standing There." This turned out to be Lennon's last public musical performance.
October 16, 1992: Columbia Records celebrated the 30th Anniversary of their release of Dylan's 1st album with a tribute concert, which Neil Young nicknamed "Bobfest." It included Harrison, Clapton, Wonder, Young, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Tom Petty, and, controversially since she'd just torn up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live, Sinead O'Connor. Dylan, whose performances range from clear to mumbled to totally unpredictable, was at the top of his game -- he had to be, with that lineup.
September 7 and 10, 2001: An all-star show honoring Michael Jackson featured several performers singing his songs, before The Gloved One himself closed the shows. The day after the 2nd show was September 11, so this was the last big New York event before the attacks.
October 20, 2001: The Concert for New York City raised funds for rebuilding after the attacks. David Bowie opened and Ex-Beatle Paul McCartney closed a show that included Joel, John, Clapton, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones, The Who (it was John Entwistle's last concert before he died), Bon Jovi, and Jay-Z and Beyoncé (who performed with Destiny's Child). Michael Jackson did not perform, but his sister Janet did. Melissa Etheridge's microphone went out while she was singing "Come to My Window," but the crowd sang along and allowed her to finish the song. She also sang "Born to Run," although I don't know why Bruce Springsteen wasn't there. It may have been the biggest array of talent ever brought together for a single concert. As Mick said, "If there's one thing we've learned from all of this, it's that you don't fuck with New York City!"
December 12, 2012: The "12-12-12" Concert raised funds for relief of Hurricane Sandy. Springsteen opened, and this was one of the few times that he and Joel have ever appeared together. It also featured McCartney and the surviving members of Nirvana, the Stones, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who, Clapton, Bon Jovi, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, Alicia Keys, Sean Combs and Kanye West.
Stuff. There are souvenir stands all over The Garden, including at the front entrance. The Garden teams also now have the MSG Team Store open a block away at the Manhattan Mall at Herald Square.
There are many good books about the Knicks. Sadly, their team stores do not seem to sell them, and the Borders store that was at the Penn Plaza complex is gone. You'll have to get them elsewhere. Alan Hahn and Knick legend Bernard King collaborated on New York Knicks: The Complete Illustrated History, tracking the team from its 1946 founding to the book's 2012 publication.
In 2003, Dennis D'Agostino published Garden Glory: An Oral History of the New York Knicks, which, understandably, focused on the glory years after the new Garden opened in 1968, to 1973. Along the same lines, longtime New York Times basketball writer Harvey Araton published When the Garden Was Eden: Clyde, the Captain, Dollar Bill, and the Glory Days of the New York Knicks, which was recently made into a documentary for ESPN's 30 for 30 series -- as was June 17, 1994, the night a Knicks NBA Finals game at The Garden competed for TV time with the O.J. Simpson Bronco chase in Los Angeles. (Clyde was Frazier, the Captain was Reed, and Dollar Bill was Bradley.)
The NBA has released 2 standard team DVDs: NBA Dynasty Series -- New York Knicks -- The Complete History (well, it was complete when it was released in 2005), and The Essentials: Five All-Time Great Games of the New York Knicks.
Unfortunately, the latter set does not include either of their title clinchers, Game 7 in 1970 (and ESPN Classic has shown the original ABC broadcast many times, so we know that one exists intact and in full color) and Game 5 in 1973, both over the Lakers. The 5 games in question are a 1984 deciding Game 5 against the Detroit Pistons, showing Bernard King at his peak; Game 7 of the 1994 Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers with Knick bête noire Reggie Miller; Game 5 of the 1999 1st round against the already-hated Miami Heat; Game 3 of the 1999 Conference Finals against the Pacers; and, for those fans whose knowledge doesn't even go back to the Ewing years, a 2012 thriller against the Chicago Bulls.
During the Game. A November 13, 2014 article on DailyRotoHelp ranked the NBA teams' fan bases, and listed the Knicks' fans at 4th. It cites the constant sellouts, but also ignores the fact that a lot of those seats are sold but not filled, and points out that the huge fan base makes those sellouts possible.
Although New Yorkers and New Jerseyans can be intense, a visiting fan will probably be safe attending a Knick game at Madison Square Garden, even if you're wearing gear of the opposing team. All the same, exercise discretion if you're wearing Boston Celtics stuff. Any other team's fans will most likely be subject to nothing more than a few verbal jabs.
A Ranger game is another matter entirely: I don't recommend that to anyone. Ranger fans are animals. Ironically, they're pretty much the same people. Why hockey makes them animals and basketball merely passionate fans, who knows.
Much of the fun of going to a Knick game is spotting the celebrities. Spike Lee is the most noticeable one, but know this: When the Knicks finally won their 1st title on May 8, 1970, Spike, then 12 years old, was there, in the Blue Seats at the top of the building. Woody Allen, then a superstar standup comic and beginning his career as a film director, was already at courtside. Jay-Z and Beyoncé haven't been around since the former bought into the Nets, but you can probably still find comedians like Jerry Seinfeld, Paul Reiser, Richard Lewis, Chris Rock and Tracy Morgan. Actor Richard Gere still goes, and you might see Samuel L. Jackson.
One celebrity you will not see at a Knicks game these days is Marvin Cooper, a.k.a. Dancing Harry. He was a Baltimore Bullets fan who danced in honor of Earl Monroe. When the Knicks traded for the Pearl early in the 1971-72 season, Cooper went up Interstate 95, and started dancing at Knick games. He would even wiggle his fingers at the opposition, in an attempt to put a hex on them. Teams didn't have dance squads in those days, so this was something new.
After the 1973 title, Knick president Ned Irish told him he couldn't dance in the aisle anymore. He did it anyway, and was kicked out. So he went out to Long Island to dance for the Nets, and they 2 of the last 3 ABA titles. He soon returned to Baltimore to care for his ill mother, and was still alive as of 2010, noting that the Knicks haven't won the NBA title since they got rid of him.
(In case you're wondering: No, Larry Goodman, a.k.a. Dancin' Larry at the Ranger games, does not dance at Knick games. The Lakers also once had a Dancing Barry, who danced in a suit, but wearing a half a basketball on his head, with eyeholes cut out.)
The Knicks do not have a regular National Anthem singer, unlike the Rangers with John Amirante. But celebrities are frequently on hand to sing it. The Knicks do not have a mascot. Nor do they have cheerleaders, but they do have the Knicks City Dancers. This shouldn't surprise anyone who knows the Madison Square Garden Corporation now owns Radio City Music Hall, home of the Rockettes.
If you're watching on TV, you may hear one of the announcers, in the tradition of Marv Albert, refer to the action moving toward "the 8th Avenue side of the building" or "the 7th Avenue side of the building." Watching on TV, the 8th Avenue side is to the left of the screen, the 7th Avenue side to the right.
The Knicks have used "Go New York, Go New York, Go!" as their fight song since 1993.
After the Game. New York's reputation as a high-crime city hasn't been true in years. And Knick fans, much more so than Ranger or Yankee Fans, are likely to leave you alone on your way out. You'll be directed to one of the escalator towers at the corners, but this will take a while.
There are dozens of bars around The Garden that are popular among postgamers. If this is your 1st time in New York, and you don't know them, my advice is to ignore the chain restaurants, and just follow people who look like they know where they're going. If you got a hotel, and nothing around The Garden appeals to you (I don't see why at least 1 wouldn't), there may be a bar more to your liking near your hotel.
If you're visiting New York during the European soccer season, as we are now in, there are many places where you can watch your favorite team. The best "football pub" in The City, and, indeed, in the country, is The Football Factory, downstairs at Legends NYC, at 6 West 33rd Street, across from the Empire State Building, and 2 blocks east from The Garden. B, D, F, N, Q or R train to 34th Street-Herald Square.
Sidelights. This is where I discuss other sports-related sites in the metropolitan area in question, and then move on to tourist attractions that have no (or little) connection to sports. Since most people reading this will be from the Tri-State Area, I'll keep it short as possible.
There is a Madison Square, where 23rd Street, 5th Avenue & Broadway all come together. The 1st 2 buildings to be named Madison Square Garden went up across from it, in 1879 and 1891, respectively, at 26th & Madison.
The 1879 Garden
The 2nd Garden hosts a few prizefights, and the 1924 Democratic Convention, which, under the old 2/3rds rule, went to 103 ballots before compromising and nominating John W. Davis for President, and he lost badly to incumbent Calvin Coolidge.
The 1891 Garden
The New York Life Insurance Company held the mortgage on the 2nd Garden, and in 1925 decided it wanted the land for its headquarters, which still stands on the site (the official address is 51 Madison Avenue). It's about a mile south of the new Garden.
But Tex Rickard, who ran the boxing promotions at The Garden, had made so much money (mainly off promoting fights of Heavyweight Champion Jack Dempsey, that he could afford to build a new Garden all by himself. He did so, at 49th Street & 8th Avenue. This building, now usually referred to as "the old Garden," became "the Mecca of Basketball" and "the Mecca of Boxing."
From 1935 until its closing in 1968, it became famous for its basketball doubleheaders, both collegiate and professional. It hosted what we would now call the NCAA Final Four in 1943 (Wyoming over Georgetown), 1944 (Utah over Dartmouth), 1945 (Oklahoma A&M, which became Oklahoma State in 1958, over New York University), 1946 (Oklahoma State over North Carolina), 1947 (Holy Cross over Oklahoma), 1948 (Kentucky over Baylor) and 1950 (City College over Bradley).
But in 1951, the college basketball point-shaving scandal hit, and all the schools that used the old Garden as a secondary home court -- NYU, CCNY, St. John's, Long Island University and Fordham -- were hit. (Only St. John's would survive as a legitimate program, and still use the new Garden as a home court for games where ticket demand exceeded an on-campus facility.) The NIT suffered, and, while it's still held at the new Garden today, it was so degraded in the eyes of the public that the NCAA Champion became viewed as the National Champion. The Final Four has only been held in the Tri-State Area once since, in 1996 at the Meadowlands (Kentucky over Syracuse), and unless MetLife Stadium or Citi Field gets a dome, it will never happen here again.
The old Garden was torn down shortly after the new Garden opened, and a skyscraper called Worldwide Plaza is on the site now. Underneath, the 50th Street station on the Subway's C & E lines has a mural depicting events at the old Garden.
It was torn down shortly after the new Garden opened, and a skyscraper called Worldwide Plaza is on the site now. Underneath, the 50th Street station on the Subway's C & E lines has a mural depicting events at the old Garden. It's about a mile north of the new Garden.
The 1925 Garden
The original Yankee Stadium, the former home of the Yankees (1923-2008) and the Giants (1956-73), was on the south side of 161st Street at River Avenue. The new Stadium is on the north side. It's about 6 1/2 miles north of The Garden. D or 4 train to 161st Street.
Shea Stadium, the former home of the Mets (1964-2008) and Jets (1964-83), and where the Yankees played while the old Yankee Stadium was being renovated (1974-75), was in Flushing Meadow, Queens, just to the west of the new Mets ballpark, Citi Field. The Giants played 1 season there, 1975. Across Roosevelt Avenue is the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, site of the U.S. Open, including stadiums named for Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong (a big sports fan, including tennis, who lived his last years nearby in Corona). 7 train to Mets-Willets Point. About 8 miles east of the Garden.
The Meadowlands complex, home to the Giants since 1976, the Jets since 1984, the Devils from 1982 to 2007, the Nets from 1981 to 2010, and the New York Red Bulls (until 2005, the New York/New Jersey MetroStars) from 1996 to 2009, is accessible by New Jersey Transit rail, but only on football games days. Otherwise, you'll have to take the New Jersey Transit 320 bus from Port Authority. About 8 miles west of the Garden.
Now, the Nets play at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and the Islanders will join them there for the 2015-16 season. 620 Atlantic Avenue & Flatbush Avenue. 2, 3, 4, 5, D, N or R train to Atlantic Avenue. About 5 miles southeast of the Garden.
The Islanders have moved into the Barclays Center as well, after playing their 1st 43 years at the Nassau Coliseum. The Nets also played their best years (1971-77) there. 1255 Hempstead Turnpike in Hempstead (the mailing address is Uniondale). Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) from Penn Station to Hempstead Terminal, then transfer to N70, N71 or N72 bus. About 27 miles east of the Garden.
The Devils now play at the Prudential Center in Newark. So does the basketball team at Seton Hall University of South Orange. 165 Mulberry Street & Edison Place. New Jersey Transit rail from New York's Penn Station to Newark's station of the same name. About 11 miles southwest of the Garden.
The New York Red Bulls have played at Red Bull Arena in Harrison since 2010. 600 Cape May Street. PATH to Harrison. Also about 11 miles southwest of the Garden.
Of the other notable sports-playing colleges in the area, St. John's University is in Jamaica, Queens, about 12 miles east; Columbia University's Baker Field/Wien Stadium is at the northern tip of Manhattan at 220th Street & Broadway, 10 miles north; the U.S. Military Academy (a.k.a. "Army") is in West Point, Orange County, 55 miles north; Syracuse's Carrier Dome is 248 miles to the northwest; Rutgers' High Point Solutions Stadium is in Piscataway, New Jersey, 39 miles southwest; and Princeton's Powers Field is 52 miles southwest.
However, because of the distance involved, I'd say forget the New Jersey, Long Island and Connecticut places, unless you're a sports nut with more than 1 day to spare.
If you have more than 1 day (and more than a little money) to spend in and around New York, I do recommend the American Museum of Natural History (79th Street & Central Park West, C train to 81st Street), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (82nd Street & 5th Avenue, 4, 5 or 6 train to 86th Street and then walk 3 blocks west to 5th Avenue), the observation deck of the Empire State Building (34th Street & 5th Avenue, 2 blocks from The Garden, B, D, F, N, Q or R train to 34th Street-Herald Square and walk 1 block east), and the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site (the only President thus far born in The City was born at 28 East 20th Street, N or R train to 23rd Street).
However, I can't recommend the Statue of Liberty, as it's not cheap, it's time-consuming both to get there and to get through, and the view from the crown isn't what you might hope. And the new World Trade Center isn't open yet, and the 9/11 Memorial is expensive and has long lines.
The New York Knicks haven't won a title in over 40 years, but with Phil Jackson running the team, Derek Fisher coaching, and Carmelo Anthony on the floor, they are once again relevant. And -- and this is just my personal opinion -- I believe that, if you told the average New Yorker that he could pick any single team to win another World Championship, and that one team would win it in its current or next upcoming season, I think you'd get more votes for the Knicks than any other team.
True, the Jets have waited longer, and the Mets will get a lot of frustrated votes, but that city truly loves basketball, and they want so badly for the Knicks to put themselves in position to make a long Playoff run, where anything is possible.
If you follow these instructions carefully, you'll be able to get in, through and out of a Knicks game safely. Not without stress, to be sure, and I can't guarantee a win (I'm Uncle Mike, not Broadway Joe), but safely.