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April 4, 2018

50 Years Later: A Turning Point Remembered

To mark the 50th anniversary of the new Madison Square Garden, the Official MSG Blog is periodically bringing you the unique perspectives of athletes, performers and others who have helped shaped The Garden’s story. Today, a Knicks legend describes how a farfetched dream turned into reality.

BY WALT FRAZIER

That's me at 22 in my rookie season. Even now, each time I step into The Garden, the experience still feels fresh and exciting. (MSG Photos)

I was a thousand miles away when I got my first glimpse of Madison Square Garden and somehow felt its pulse. It was a weekly tradition in our house on Atlanta’s east side — my father, grandfather and me, side by side for another edition of Friday Night Fights, straight from the old Garden on West 50th St. We watched on our black and white TV, but it all came alive when we placed a three-colored screen over the picture. (Yes, there was such a thing.) At 15, even from afar, New York was bright and vivid. I realize now that years before I arrived here with the Knicks, the city was pulling me toward it.

It doesn’t seem quite real that all this time has passed since the new Garden opened. But marking the 50th anniversary has taken me back to a turning point in my life and in the life of the city.

We had begun the 1967-68 season in the old Garden, where cigar and cigarette smoke hung in a haze over the court, and even the coaches smoked on the bench. Our locker room was drafty and cold in the winter, and poorly lit. It felt sometimes like we were dressing in the dark. But we knew something good was coming.

 

A First At The New Garden

Weeks before our first game in the new Madison Square Garden, the entire team was given a preview tour, and we instantly knew we were in a different universe. The ceiling. The grandeur. This truly felt like The World’s Most Famous Arena.

Players back then would talk about being overcome by “Gardenitis.” Everyone felt those jitters — from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Oscar Robertson. This was the Mecca, and on our Opening Night there on Valentine’s Day, 1968, we felt them, too. Everything was bigger and brighter.

That first game we defeated the San Diego Rockets, 114-102, and the numbers show that Dick Barnett scored 26 points, Willis Reed had 23, and I had 22. The box score doesn’t reveal that I scored the first basket for the Knicks in the new Garden, but I remember it clearly. I can tell you it was a layup. I was 22 at the time, far from my father and grandfather and the old TV, but totally at home.

 


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About The Madison Square Garden Company

The Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) is a world leader in live sports and entertainment experiences. The company presents or hosts a broad array of premier events in its diverse collection of iconic venues: New York's Madison Square Garden, The Theater at Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall and Beacon Theatre; the Forum in Inglewood, CA; The Chicago Theatre; and the Wang Theatre in Boston. Other MSG properties include legendary sports franchises: the New York Knicks (NBA), the New York Rangers (NHL) and the New York Liberty (WNBA); two development league teams -- the Westchester Knicks (NBAGL) and the Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL); and one of the leading North American esports organizations, Counter Logic Gaming. In addition, the Company features the popular original production - the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes - and through Boston Calling Events, produces outdoor festivals, including New England's preeminent Boston Calling Music Festival. Also under the MSG umbrella is TAO group, a world-class hospitality group with globally-recognized entertainment dining and nightlife brands: Tao, Marquee, Lavo, Avenue, The Stanton Social, Beauty & Essex and Vandal. More information is available at www.themadisonsquaregardencompany.com