Where history has roots

Madison Square Garden a special place for basketball players of all ages

Doc Rivers led a home win in Game 2 of the 1993 Eastern Conference finals. Doc Rivers led a home win in Game 2 of the 1993 Eastern Conference finals. (Ron Frehm/Associated Press)
By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / April 22, 2011

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NEW YORK — There is history here. There are moments and memories and dreams dashed and realized.

This is where they want to play, in New York, in Madison Square Garden, in the playoffs. This is the ultimate, the place of Willis Reed and Ali-Frazier and the Stanley Cup. And tonight, for the first time in seven years, there will be postseason NBA basketball in Madison Square Garden.

“It’s a special meaning with me because I played there, No. 1,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, whose team will take on the Knicks in Game 3 of their first-round series. “It’s special to every single player because it’s the only arena left. There’s no other arena in the NBA that has memory. All the other ones have been blown up and they’ve put new ones in.

“This is the arena, or the same land, all this stuff has happened — and players know that.’’

It’s not only current NBA players. It’s the next generation, too. Including Rivers’s kids.

“One of their dreams is to play in Madison Square Garden,’’ Rivers said. “They’re not from New York. It’s just, it’s the only building. It used to be the [Los Angeles] Forum, the Boston Garden, and Madison Square Garden. Now it’s Madison Square Garden.’’

As nice as the shiny-new arenas are, they are no match for the history of the old ones, the years of games and stories, the moments that are passed down.

Ask Rivers, the former Knick, about his best memories in the building, and he pauses. As much as he venerates the arena, his memories are not of great moments, because he never won the whole thing here.

“I know that sounds sad in some ways,’’ he said, “but that’s very true. I really don’t. I remember all the negatives. I remember Game 5 against Chicago [a 97-94 loss in the 1993 Eastern Conference finals]. That’s not my greatest memory, but that’s the memory I have.’’

For some, it’s easier.

“I have history in that building,’’ said Celtics guard Ray Allen. “I’ve watched history in that building. In a day and age where so many different cities have remodeled, renovated, or built new structures, Madison Square Garden is probably one of the most unique because it’s still relevant.

“If my history is correct, I know there are four Gardens in the history of Madison Square Garden in New York, but this one has been there for the longest and I have seen some good games there.’’

And played in some. The Celtics, in fact, have had more than their share of success in Madison Square Garden. They have a 125-111 record (.530) on the road against the Knicks.

“Madison Square Garden is where everyone wants to play,’’ said Glen Davis. “You get up for those type of games.’’

Part of that is the building. And the fans don’t hurt, either. Tonight the Celtics expect to find, well, a zealous crowd.

“They’ll be hostile, they’ll be raucous, they’ll be excited,’’ Allen said. “Regardless of who is on their team, they’ll be like, ‘We’re in the playoffs. We’re here.’

“I have been on a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs in a long time. You make it, you know what it does for your fan base, what it does for your city.

“You just go into it expecting hostility. You’ve got to stick together.’’

And though Madison Square Garden provides built-in drama, built-in history, those aren’t necessary conditions for atmosphere, especially in the postseason.

“In the last four years, the toughest environment we’ve played in, the most hostile, probably was Atlanta,’’ said Allen. “The building hadn’t been packed throughout the course of the year we played there. They hadn’t been in the playoffs in a long time, and when we stepped in there, they really rose to the occasion and it was the loudest I’ve ever heard it from their fan base.’’

The Knicks’ fan base will get its chance tonight. And the Celtics will get a chance to see how the New York crowd reacts to the end of the long playoff drought.

Asked if he was pleased to see Madison Square Garden back in the playoff rotation, Rivers said, “Not really. I would prefer it to be nice and docile. I liked it better that way.’’

But that’s not really how it seems.

It seems as if the Celtics will be glad to be walking into Madison Square Garden tonight, glad to face off against a set of fans with ready vocal cords, aware of the arena and all the attention that brings.

“They’ll be ready with energy, and they’ll actually think they have an impact,’’ said Rivers. “But I like that. I think our guys love that atmosphere. I think it’s fun when you go on the road.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @AmalieBenjamin.

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