Newsday's Al Iannazzone takes you inside the Knicks.
Knicks won't get to christen new digs at MSG
Steve Lavin recently took a tour through the refurbished lower-bowl area of Madison Square Garden and liked what he saw. In particular, he loved the layout of the locker room that will be available to his St. John's team for eight games this season, including tonight's game against No. 15 Arizona as part of the 2KSports Classic for Coaches vs. Cancer.
St. John's has called the Garden home for longer than the Knicks. The Johnnies were actually part of one of the first college doubleheaders, which changed everything for basketball in the early part of the 20th century. Some could argue that if it were not for the success of Ned Irish's idea to have the Garden host these games, there would be no NBA. The Knicks and the NBA came around a decade or so later, born from the popularity of the college game and the interest in watching the college stars continue to play after graduation.
After the current Garden was built, St. John's continued its relationship with the college basketball mecca. [History lesson: it was the arena they used to call "The Mecca," not the city, because college teams would travel long distances -- you know, make a pilgrimage, for the opportunity to play there.] And while all other visitors to the arena would use other locker room facilities, it became tradition that the Johnnies would use the Knicks' room. It was part of the prestige of playing for New York City's premier college basketball program.
And tonight, Lavin's team will continue that tradition. In fact, he insisted upon it, even though the Knicks have yet to use it themselves as a result of the ongoing NBA lockout. So instead of Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, it'll be Nurideen Lindsey and Moe Harkless dripping the first beads of sweat on that plush blue carpet as the players sit in the circular, state-of-the-art room, with a replica of the famous Garden ceiling above them. Instead of Mike D'Antoni, it'll be Lavin scribbling plays and notes on the large dry erase board.
For tonight, and perhaps the entire season, this beautiful new room, which includes two hot tubs, spacious, spa-like showers, a massive weight room and many other exclusive fitness club-quality amenities, will be all for St. John's.
The court, of course, has already been used. It was the setting for a memorable night for Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, who passed his mentor, Bob Knight, on the NCAA men's Division I all-time list with his 903rd career win as coach. Once again, the Garden is the place of basketball history.
Carmelo, who played for Coach K on the Redeem Team in Beijing in the 2008 Olympics, was there, along with several other NBA players who were coached by Krzyzewski at Duke. With him was Chris Paul -- those two seem to be inseparable lately -- and maybe the first time the Knicks use that locker room, he and Melo will be wearing the same jersey.
But for now, they are guests, as the Garden is strictly a college gym for basketball this winter. Until the pro game ends this embarrassing, disenchanting stubbornness between the owners and the players -- both equally at fault for torching their livelihood, not to mention a source of much-needed entertainment for regular people with real-life problems that are far more severe than preserving one extra year of guaranteed salary -- let the college game have the building.
Let St. John's have the room.