Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.

The rapid reinvention of the New York sports landscape continued apace over the weekend, from New Jersey - where a soccer match filled New Meadowlands Stadium for the first time - to the Bronx, where the last walls of old Yankee Stadium crashed to the ground.

And somewhere in Brooklyn, yet another new palace is stirring to life, awaiting the Nets.

But quietly, behind the scenes, another major project already is under way, one fundamentally different from ones that did or will provide new homes for the Devils, Mets, Yankees, Red Bulls, Giants, Jets and Nets.

Madison Square Garden is not going anywhere, but it is in the early stages of a project that is expected to gradually transform the 42-year-old arena by 2013-14 and cost from $775 million to $850 million (all paid for by the Garden).

Other than the building's exterior and famous ceiling, its entire look will change, all while the Knicks and Rangers play without disruption. (If either team were to reach its playoff finals, the Rangers would have to start the ensuing season on the road.) The Liberty will have to play elsewhere temporarily.

The basic plan has been known for months and a detailed model sits in the showcase center built near the main entrance.

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But Garden president Hank Ratner laid out the particulars in greater detail than ever before in an e-mail to season-ticket holders last week.

Monday, he said the plan offers the "best of both worlds" in retaining a New York landmark while creating an almost entirely new, more modern, user-friendly facility.

"The word 'renovation' is a bad word," he said. "It's really a new Madison Square Garden."

When I suggested the project is not quite as radical as the gutting of the original Yankee Stadium after the 1973 season, Ratner said, "It's close."

The most visible work will be done in the summers of 2011, '12 and '13, but some has begun, including the removal of office space that will be turned into vastly larger, more airy concourses.

Work on the lower bowl is expected to be done in time for the 2011-12 season, including 20 new high-end suites and all new seats.

The upper bowl should be redone for 2012-13, featuring a steeper (by 17 degrees) pitch to improve sightlines and new "party decks."

The final phase, due for 2013-14, includes an expanded, modernized lobby and the most distinctive feature of all: "bridges" suspended above the playing surface from which fans can watch games.

"It's pretty wild," Ratner said. "It's like no other viewing experience in professional sports."

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Reggie contradicts self

In an interview with Chris Russo on Sirius XM Satellite Radio a couple of weeks ago, Reggie Jackson criticized Athletics pitcher Dallas Braden, defended Alex Rodriguez and said:

"I've never heard that you're not allowed on the mound; I've never heard that . . . So now all of a sudden, Al does that and everyone's on his butt. That's wrong. That's dead wrong."

But as noted by alert reader Daniel Dowling of East Meadow, in his 2009 book with Bob Gibson, "Sixty Feet, Six Inches," Jackson said this, recalling an incident with Mike Caldwell of the Brewers:

"Once, after I popped out, I tried to get to him by cutting across the pitcher's mound on the way back to the dugout, which you're not supposed to do. The next time I came up, he knocked me down."

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Oops. As Braden's grandmother, Peggy Lindsey, might have said: "Stick it, Reggie!"

Sound bites

Speaking of Braden, the MLB Network came up big Sunday for the second time in its two years by showing the final outs of a perfect game live . . . Braden's 15 minutes of fame, now deep into overtime, will continue Tuesday night when he delivers the top 10 list on "The Late Show with David Letterman" . . . It says something about ESPN Classic that it took me several weeks to realize it had moved from Cablevision's basic digital tier to the iO Sports Pak, essentially replaced by ESPNU. I love quirky old stuff as much as the next baby boomer, but Classic often is anything but classic. I like this trade . . . ESPN's "E:60'' Tuesday night has a profile of Mariano Rivera, including a visit to his old neighborhood in Panama, and a segment from Jeremy Schaap on "corrective rape'' in South Africa, in which men assault lesbians on the theory it might "cure" them. Some victims have been soccer players.

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