Ripping Up the Garden

In common parlance, MSG has two meanings: 1) Madison Square Garden, home to the New York Knicks. 2) That stuff they put in bad Chinese food that makes you sick. Lately, though, it’s felt like the two definitions have been merging — which is to say that mentions of Madison Square Garden have been making me ill. More accurately, it’s the never-ending stream of Madison Square Garden fetishism during this late Celtics-Knicks series that’s been wearing me out.

A disclaimer: New Yorkers, despite being knuckle-dragging heathens who root for generally evil institutions, are good sports fans. They come, they’re loud, and they care. New York is one of the handful of really great sports towns in America.

That being said, the amount written and said about the “MSG crowd” over the last week was really getting absurd. It’s like the Celtics were playing the Knicks ticket holders and not the Knicks themselves. As Will Leitch, who for the most part has written excellently about this series and the general experience of being a sports fan over at New York magazine’s “The Sports Section” blog, put it:

“This series was about the Garden. As undermanned as the Knicks were heading into this series, few picked them to be swept, in large part because of Madison Square Garden. The idea was that even if the Knicks didn’t have the horses to compete, the crowd would somehow will them into a victory, by mere dint of their desperation and fervor.”

Uhm. Look, we get it, the Knicks have been awful for a long time. And MSG has a traditionally great crowd. It was a return of sorts. But enough already! The last time the MSG crowd played an active role in the Knicks winning an important game was when Whoopie Goldberg came down from the stands in Eddie. If anything, Knicks fans are best known for being famously silenced.

In these last two games, Knicks fans were nothing other than normal, good sports fans. They were loud at the beginning and dead quiet while the Celtics were pounding their team. You could hear a pin drop Friday night in Madison Square Garden. The New York fans tried to will their squad back into the game yesterday — just like fans anywhere would — but, in the end, the game was between the Celtics and Knicks, not the Celtics and the several thousands assembled.

I realize it’s a slippery slope for a Boston fan to bash another city for their sense of sports exceptionalism, but I’m not even sure our Fenway Park obsession has ever gone so far that somebody would say a Red Sox playoff series was more about the stadium than the team on the field. Maybe it’s because 86 years of futility taught us that, in the end, good fans can only carry a team so far, can only give it that last extra push.

In any case, the Knicks are eliminated and we won’t have to hear anything about MSG until next season. Meanwhile, the Celtics play on and the real Garden will be rocking. Enjoy one last good schadenfreude-filled look at the New York tabloids.