Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
John Tavares found himself swarmed around noon Monday by a horde of reporters and camera crews, a sight not ordinarily seen after an off-day practice in Syosset.
But these are not ordinary times, not for the Islanders and not for their captain.
The scene in the suddenly way-too-small dressing room at Iceworks was another illustration of how far these Islanders have come — now well into the second round of the playoffs for the first time since Tavares was 2.
Enjoying the circus, John?
“I enjoy playing in the games and competing for the Stanley Cup,” he said. “I think everything else comes with it, it amplifies everything, and that’s what playoff hockey is.
“You just try to focus as a team and individually as best we can to play our best and obviously be successful and keep this thing going.”
Tavares has been the star of the show. His six goals, one a series clincher, and five assists only begin to tell the story. He has revealed himself to casual onlookers as what connoisseurs already knew he is: one of the best in the game.
But it says here that he is even more than that as of mid-spring, 2016. He is, quite simply, the best player on any major New York-area pro team in any sport.
Yes, the likes of Eli Manning, Darrelle Revis, Alex Rodriguez, David Wright, Henrik Lundqvist, Carmelo Anthony and a few others have accomplished more in their careers, but each likely has fewer good seasons in his future than his past.
Yes, the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. and various Mets starting pitchers have shown flashes of brilliance, but all have thin resumes and have not yet reached their peaks — or so they hope.
(And anyway, how can a Mets pitcher be the best athlete in New York when it is not even clear who is the best pitcher on the Mets’ staff?)
Kristaps Porzingis? Way too soon.
Mo Wilkerson? Excellent player, but a guy not asked to carry remotely the same playing and leadership burdens Tavares is.
Yoenis Cespedes? Hmm. Maybe we should wait until he’s been here for more than nine months before considering him.
Tavares, at age 25 and in his seventh season, stands alone at the intersection of talent, experience, youth and drive. And he has done it with a Jeter-ian lack of drama or controversy.
Of course, there are blessings associated with playing in the relative anonymity of Syosset/Brooklyn and in the sport of hockey. Tavares attracts less attention than any player named above.
But in his first season playing within the New York City limits, there now is no more hiding for Tavares. And there is no sign he wants to.
After practice, I asked Matt Martin if, as good as Tavares is, the magnitude of his dominance so far this spring had surprised him.
“No, it hasn’t surprised me at all,” he said. “I played against him in junior, obviously played with him for six, seven years now here. We know what he’s capable of, a big-game player, scores a lot of big goals for this franchise.
“So we know what to expect from him. Obviously, we don’t want to rely on him as much as we have. We need to all be better and try to get more offense. But he’s our leader, he’s our catalyst and he’s been great.”
All true. And at the moment, there is no one around here who is greater.