Even Ray Allen, who was a freshman at UConn in 1993 and has been playing basketball on Broadway for going on 18 years, doesn't know the experience of an NBA playoff game at Madison Square Garden. These days, few people do.
The Knicks haven't been in the postseason since 2004. They haven't won a playoff game since 2001. Most of today's players don't remember the good old days when New York was a basketball town and MSG was the game's mecca.
Those days haven't returned yet. It would be premature to say that, even with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire restoring pride to the Big Apple again. But relevant springtime basketball is returning to the Garden on Friday night, and it's about time.
"I have history in that building," Allen said. "I've watched history in that building.
"In a day and age where so many different cities have remodeled, renovated, or built new structures, Madison Square Garden is probably one of the most unique, because it still stands and it's still relevant. If my history is correct, there's been four Gardens in the history of Madison Square Garden in New York, but in my day, this one's been there for the longest. I've seen a lot of big games there."
Allen may have played a few big ones back in his Big East tournament days, and he may have watched a few on TV in the late 1990s when the Knicks were in power. But since then, it's been lean times. The City That Never Sleeps has slept a lot.
Now that the Knicks are back, there's a renewed verve to the so-called greatest hoops town in the world. For a while, Knicks fans lay dormant. Their edge was gone. Now they've got that playoff intensity back. They're going to be the mean, nasty New Yorkers we all know and love.
"Yeah, they're going to be hostile," Allen said. "They're going to be raucous. They're going to be excited. Regardless of who's on their team, they'll just be like, 'We're in the playoffs! We're here.' I've been on a team that hasn't been to the playoffs in a long time, and when you make it, it's big for what it does for your fan base, what it does for your city."
That's what the playoffs do. They turn ordinary people into fans, ordinary fans into fanatics, and fanatics into the borderline criminally insane. There's nothing quite like postseason basketball.
Allen knows that. He's seen what a playoff berth can do to turn a franchise around. He saw it in Milwaukee, he saw it in Seattle, and of course, he saw it in Boston.
"In the last four years, the toughest environment we've played in, or the most hostile probably, was Atlanta," he said, referring to the first round in '08. "We went in not knowing what to expect going in there. The building hadn't been packed throughout the course of the season when we'd played there, but they hadn't been to the playoffs in a long time. So when we stepped into that building, they rose to the occasion, and it was the loudest we've ever heard it.
"So," he added, "you never know what to expect."
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