Bock’s Score: They Never Promised You Madison Square Garden


They opened the spiffy new UBS Arena, home of the New York Islanders, over the weekend, continuing the building boom for stadiums and arenas in the New York area.

There is one problem though besides the home team being booed off the ice after dropping the first two games in their fancy new building. The place lacks the panache of the oldest sports venue in New York.

Madison Square Garden.

The fourth version of the Garden, which properly bills itself as the world’s most famous arena, was built over Penn Station in 1968, replacing an iconic version that dominated the landscape in midtown Manhattan for many years.

The old Garden and the new one, if a 53-year-old structure can be called new, have long served as sports magnets even though the house teams, the NHL Rangers and NBA Knicks have very few championships to celebrate.

Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played basketball there. Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull played hockey there. Muhamad Ali fought Joe Frazier there. Marilyn Monroe sang Happy Birthday to President John F. Kennedy there.

The place had panache.

The baseball Yankees and Mets decided they too needed new homes so Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium were leveled and replaced by new homes. They were nice, shiny new structures, one resembling a museum, the other an attempt to replicate the owner’s childhood hangout, Ebbets Field.

Shea had hosted not only the Mets but also the NFL Jets. But that team’s owner was displeased with the restroom facilities and wanted a new home. Yankee Stadium was home to the Giants. Together the two football teams packed up and moved across the Hudson River. Giants Stadium became home to two NFL teams playing in New Jersey but still called “New York.’’ Eventually, that handsome new structure was viewed as outdated and replaced next door by Met Life Stadium, still a single building for two teams.

Expansion invented the NHL Islanders and NBA Nets.

The Nets were vagabonds, born in New Jersey and shortly afterwards transported to Long Island. There they played in a drafty old arena where players on the bench donned overcoats to combat the climate. Then they moved with the new Islanders into a new building, the Nassau Coliseum, affectionately called “The Barn.’’

Soon, Brooklyn beckoned with another new arena, Barclay Center, which lured both the Nets and Islanders. It was a basketball venue that tried to accommodate hockey and could not. Next stop for the Islanders was $1.1 billion UBS Arena with all the amenities of a world class arena.

Just without the panache.


About the Author

Hal Bock

Hal Bock is a contributor with NY Sports Day. He has covered sports for 40 years at The Associated Press including 30 World Series, 30 Super Bowls and 11 Olympics. He is the author of 14 books including most recently The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty and Banned Baseball's Blacklist of All-Stars and Also-Rans. He has written scores of magazine articles and served as Journalist In Residence at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus where he also served on the selection committee for the George Polk Awards.

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