It took three years and over a billion dollars but the top-to-bottom renovations of Madison Square Garden have finally been completed. The Garden truly has the feel of a brand-new arena, not one that was built in 1968 and had some modifications made to it.
A lot has been written about the pair of pathways known as “The Chase Bridges” located near the Garden’s ceiling, which allow patrons to walk from the 31st Street side to the 33rd Street side and back without missing any of the action. They are an architectural wonder as they are virtually undetectable looking up from the courtside seats. You have to climb up a few stairs from the Garden’s ninth floor, known affectionately as the “blue seats” since back in the day, to get to these bridges. Amazingly, the bridges don’t block the vision of anyone sitting on the upper level.
Just as most Queens apartment buildings contain one bedroom and studio apartments, the Garden has full-sized corporate suites and now miniature ones known as “lofts” on the two bridges.
Another highlight of the renovated Garden is its humongous high-resolution scoreboard, which makes the Jumbotrons of the past look like those Sony Watchman televisions of the 1990s. The good thing about the scoreboard is that you feel like you have a courtside seat. The bad news is that it is easy to spend the whole night looking at it, instead of down on the court where the action is taking place.
Madison Square Garden has been shut down from May through late October the last three years as the renovations have been completed in three stages. That has meant that the WNBA’s Liberty have had to play at Newark’s Prudential Center the last three years. They might as well have been playing in Kansas for the amount of attention they’ve received here, and that has badly hurt women’s professional basketball. The long-term survival of the WNBA is still a dicey proposition some 17 years after the league started. Having the Liberty playing their home games again at the Garden in 2014 can only help.
The NBA Draft, which for years had been held at the Theater at the Garden, relocated in 2011 and 2012 to the Prudential Center and last year to the Barclays Center. It should return to its old home this June.
The concert business also took a hit with the loss of the Garden the last three summers and the full-time return of “the world’s most famous arena” can only mean good news to the music biz, which has been mired in a long slump.
You get the feeling that the Clash classic hit “Should I Stay or Should I Go” should be the Knicks theme song, as the media and fans will undoubtedly be reading the tea leaves for the latest signs to discern whether star forward Carmelo Anthony will remain in New York or seek the Hollywood life when he becomes a free agent on July 1, 2014.
Knicks head coach Mike Woodson clearly does not want to live through the hell that former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown endured four years ago when LeBron James toyed with Cleveland fans, the media and the entire Cavs organization in his walk year. Woodson will certainly be badgered by the media all season about Anthony’s future. He may want to cue up Doris Day’s signature song, “Que Sera, Sera,” for his pregame press conferences.
Newly acquired Knicks forward Metta World Peace (known as Ron Artest when he was growing up in Queensbridge) told me that he was amazed at how Long Island City has changed since he left St. John’s University back in 1999 to embark on an NBA career. He is impressed with the gleaming new apartment buildings that have been built near the waterfront.
Metta got reacquainted with his hometown by taking a bus ride around the city with a group of enthusiastic youngsters in an event put together by Garden of Dreams, the Madison Square Garden philanthropic arm that works tirelessly to enhance the lives of disadvantaged children.
The Brooklyn Nets were undoubtedly the off-season NBA champions as evidenced by the recent Sports Illustrated cover story that featured the team’s expected starting lineup and new head coach Jason Kidd.
To quote wrestling philosopher Ric Flair, “In order to be the best, you have to beat the best!” The Nets have lost 17 straight games to the Miami Heat. At Nets media day last month, center Brook Lopez, who is the longest tenured Net, conceded that his team has to beat LeBron, Dwyane and the guys at least once this season to have any credibility going into the postseason.
SI also had a terrific piece on longtime Nets announcer Ian Eagle, who is finally getting the recognition he deserves for being one of the best play-by-play broadcasters today. Ian must have made a Faustian bargain not only for his broadcasting skills but also for his perennially youthful appearance. He still looks as if he just graduated from Forest Hills High School, which he did more than 25 years ago. Dorian Gray would be jealous!
While on the topic of great sports air personalities, Bill Mazer passed away last month at the age of 92. Mazer was renowned for his encyclopedic knowledge of sports trivia, which went well beyond savant status. He had the first regularly scheduled radio sports call-in show back on the old WNBC-AM in March 1964. Eight years later he helped pioneer TV’s first elongated Sunday night local sports wrapup show, “Sports Extra” on Channel 5. That format is now standard in every TV market across the country.
The surprising success of the bearded Boston Red Sox has to be a mixed blessing for the world’s largest shaving goods company, Gillette, which is based in Beantown. The company should open its vaults and try to entice Mike Napoli or Jonny Gomes to shave off their ZZ Top inspirations with a Fusion Proglider or Mach3.
Reggie Jackson has written his second autobiography, entitled “Becoming Mr. October” (Doubleday), which goes into greater detail about his Yankee years than his previous tome. The passing years have done little to diminish the animosity that he has for his old manager, the late Billy Martin, whom he paints as an irascible and racist sociopath.
If you are worried about experiencing baseball withdrawal symptoms, you should catch the Arizona Fall League, which has teams in delightful suburban Phoenix towns such as Mesa, Scottsdale, Glendale and Peoria. Practically every team (including the Mets) sends a good number of top prospects to the AFL’s various teams. Going to Arizona for games is also a good way to escape the mid-fall chill and enjoy the summer-like conditions of the Valley of the Sun. JetBlue has frequent inexpensive flights between JFK and Phoenix.
ESPN finally has gotten around to showing “Big Shot,” Kevin Connolly’s documentary on fraudulent former Islanders owner John Spano. “Big Shot” debuted last April at the Tribeca Film Festival. Connolly, who grew up a huge Islanders fan in Patchogue, LI, is best known for his co-starring role on HBO’s “Entourage.” He was able to coax Spano into reminiscing about how he was able to purchase the team in 1996 with very little of his own money by creating fictitious financial statements that were audited by hardly anyone. In “Big Shot,” Spano reminds one of Harold Hill, the lovable con man in “The Music Man.”
It has been a long time since anyone cared about boxing’s heavyweight division, which used to be the only one that most fans followed. Oscar de la Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions has signed the hulking 6-foot-7 Deontay Wilder, who hails from Crimson Tide territory, Tuscaloosa, Ala., in the hopes that he will become the 21st century’s answer to Mike Tyson. If Deontay can box as well as he can handle a microphone, based on what I saw at a press conference at BB King’s, he’ll be a champion.
Boxer Bernard Hopkins has to be the most amazing athlete of my lifetime. He’s three months away from his 49th birthday and he keeps winning prizefights. This past Saturday he defeated German challenger Karo Murat in a 12-round unanimous decision at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall.
Murat does not speak a word of English, so you know that Showtime executives had to have been pulling for Hopkins for that reason alone. The odds are that if the fight had been even, that factor, combined with the fact that Hopkins is from nearby Philadelphia, would have probably influenced the judges’ scoring decision. Bernard made life easier for everyone by clearly outboxing Murat.
The proliferation of casinos in the Northeast, including Genting’s Resorts World here in Queens and Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway has badly hurt the Atlantic City economy. More name boxing cards, such as the matches held in AC this past Saturday, are a major shot in the arm for arguably America’s first resort town. Atlantic City has worked hard to lure visitors with improved restaurants and hotel rooms that are cheaper now than a decade ago. Walking its four-mile boardwalk is a great form of exercise.
Considering that it doesn’t have a contract with any of the major sports teams or the Big East any longer, SNY should do a better job showcasing local college basketball teams. The station’s winter broadcasting schedule consists of random NCAA games that appeared to have been chosen by throwing a dart at a league schedule. Only Fordham seems to be getting any constant coverage. It would be nice if SNY could devote a little time to Columbia and Hofstra, as well as such Northeast Conference teams as LIU, St. Francis and Wagner.
While I am glad that SNY is finally reducing the number of its deathly dull debate shows, its “Covino & Rich” 6 p.m. show comes off as the kind of low-budget haphazard stuff that you expect to find on cable public access channels. SNY was clearly hoping that the duo’s breezy take on sports and pop culture, which works fairly well on their SiriusXM show, would translate to television. No such luck so far.
Goldstar, a company which sells discounted tickets to a variety of events on the internet, is getting more involved with sporting events as it will be offering 50 percent off tickets to selected games from all major sporting events. It has just launched a smartphone app that lets you sit near your friends if they bought a ticket for an event before you.
Long Island-based Arizona Beverage Company, which is best known for its varieties of iced tea, is invading Dr. Brown territory with a line of Shaq sodas that feature the mug of Shaquille O’Neal on cans. Arizona continues to offer Arnold Palmer iced teas and lemonade as well.
Cookbook author and noted food television personality Ching-He Huang is the host of a new show on the Cooking Channel called “Restaurant Redemption,” which airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. The gimmick of the show is that Huang acts as a consultant to restaurants that for years were profitable but have been suffering recently. In the first show, Ching-He visited one of Queens’ best-known Chinese restaurants, Fresh Meadows’ King Yum. One of the problems she discovered was that there was too much of a reliance on fried dishes that were drenched with sauces instead of on healthier, fresh herb-based cuisine. You can catch past episodes by logging onto cookingchanneltv.com.
Ireland’s Guinness is world-famous for its dark beer but I have to admit that I have always greatly preferred an amber lager. Guinness is testing in select American cities a black lager, which is a hybrid between its famous dark beer and the popular amber lager that most beer drinkers prefer. This is the equivalent of Apple using a traditional PC system for its line of Mac computers.