I hate when people refer to Madison Square Garden as the world’s most famous arena. I can’t think of another one that is still standing that can rival it but that doesn’t mean it should automatically take the title. The current manifestation of the Garden was built in 1968. Did you know that? Doesn’t it seem like it should be this really really old place with all this history? Nope, it just happened to be built right before the Knicks won two titles in 1970 and ’73. People also give it credit for being famous because NYC is a hotbed for basketball talent and often city title games are played there.
What’s annoying to me is the arena itself. Check out these photos of it and what it replaced. It’s one of the really sad stories out there, I think. The original Penn Station was destroyed and rebuilt underground (beneath the Garden, if you’ve ever been there it’s really odd) so that this could go in instead.
Now, I know that MSG has seen it’s fair share of famous moments. Willis Reed, Reggie Miller and Michael Jordan have all turned in legendary performances there. But those are famous in basketball circles, not really culturally speaking. In this age of television and internet, does a specific arena really matter much anymore? My guess is that the earlier versions, and even this current version, of the Garden were host to famous and rich New Yorkers who were influential and important. Sort of the way Lakers games are but in a more intense way (in other words, not just actors). It was important to play in New York because that was the center of the universe. But these days the Knicks suck, St. John’s isn’t very good and where you actually are matters less than ever before. There are YouTube clips of everything under the sun so you don’t have to be at the Garden to experience what happens there.
Eventually the Knicks will bury the Garden and move into a newer arena of some kind. People will be sad but what difference will it really make? The Celtics moved out of Boston Garden, and unless you are Bill Simmons, it hasn’t made that much of a difference. Same with the Lakes moving out of the Forum, the Sixers moving out of the Spectrum and on and on.
The only arenas I think that are really historically important anymore are college venues like Cameron Indoor, Pauley Pavilion, The Palestra, Hinkle Fieldhouse and Allen Fieldhouse. Some, like Cole Field House, Reynolds Coliseum or Carmichael Gym have been either torn down or moved out of in favor of larger, pro-style venues.
I guess the point of all this rambling is that MSG should not be considered an elite or culturally important venue. It’s just a big, round stadium in the middle of Manhattan. It is not the same place that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows debuted in or that hosted Jack Dempsey’s only indoor fight. To me it’s just a gym, no more famous than anywhere else, and no more important.