The NBA All-Star Game is this Sunday, which means it's time once again to go back into the past for another New York Week That Was retrospective. Today we're heading to January 23, 1968, which was the last hurrah for the old (and third) version of Madison Square Garden that was located on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th streets. The NBA paid tribute to the soon-to-be-gone MSG, around since 1925 and known as "The House That Tex Built" after Garden owner Tex Rickard, by gifting it the All-Star Game only a few weeks before the new building would open.
The East completely dominated the West in the extravaganza, winning 144-124. 76er Hal Greer was named the MVP for his 21 points scored coming off the bench. He was a perfect eight for eight from the floor in 17 minutes of play, while going five for seven from the line. It's no wonder the East destroyed the West, since they featured 11 Hall of Famers. Two New York Knicks made the team, as well as two future Knicks. Their starting lineup was a who's who of all-time greats: Willis Reed (16 points, eight rebounds), Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Jerry Lucas and Dave Bing. And their bench was more impressive than the West's starting lineup: Bill Russell, John Havlicek (26 points), Dick Barnett (15 points), Gus Johnson, Sam Jones and Dave DeBusschere (of the Pistons). They were coached by Philadelphia's Alex Hannum. The weaker West had Jerry West, Zelmo Beatty, Elgin Baylor (who led his side with 22 points), Lenny Wilkins and former Knick Bob Boozer starting, with a less-than-spectacular bench consisting of Bill Bridges, Mahdi Abdul-Rahman, Rudy LaRusso, Clyde Lee, Archie Clarke, Don Kojis and Jim King, and they were coached by Bill Sharman of the Warriors. Old-time teams such as the St. Louis Hawks, San Diego Rockets, Cincinnati Royals, San Francisco Warriors and Baltimore Bullets were represented.
This year's All-Star Game should be a little more even, with future Hall of Famers spread out over both squads. Who would win, though, if the 1968 East team took on this season's East (or West) squad? Now that would be an All-Star Game.
And now on to the top stories of the week in the world of New York sports.
The Donalds: Donald Trump made headlines when he said he had an interest in buying the New York Mets. He's already owned one team, the USFL's New Jersey Generals, and that didn't go so well, as the league folded partly because of his insistence on having a fall schedule to go head to head with the NFL. Of course, there's no way the Donald could stand having a silent, minority share in the Mets, and the Wilpons still insist they're not selling controlling interest in the team. But if things keep spinning out of control, they may not have any choice once everything plays out. Trump also stated he would sell any interest he had in his casinos to comply with MLB rules and regulations. Can you imagine if George Steinbrenner were still around, and the Donald and the Boss went toe to toe with the two local baseball franchises? Holy cow! And if the long-shot possibility came true, Trump could use The Apprentice to choose future managers and GMs.
Countdown to Carmelo: The Denver Nuggets are not pulling any punches when it comes to their asking price for Carmelo Anthony. They requested that the Knicks throw in pretty much their whole team (Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Landry Fields, Timofey Mozgov) plus a first-round draft pick. Rex Ryan was at Friday's game against the Lakers sporting a vintage Walt Frazier jersey, so the Knicks tried to replace Felton with the Jet coach in the deal to see if the Nuggets would notice. While at the Garden, Ryan, of course, predicted the New York Jets would win the Super Bowl next year. Though he wore a Clyde jersey, he was just channeling one of Patrick Ewing's old guarantees that still haven't been cashed in. And while the Jets slapped the franchise tag on David Harris, the Knicks did the same with Anthony, again trying a ruse to confuse Denver. On the court, the Knicks themselves wore snazzy vintage uniforms, which didn't help them against the Lakers, but they recovered by defeating the New Jersey Nets without the services of Amar'e Stoudemire, and they got some revenge against the Atlanta Hawks, after the fisticuff-filled contest the last time the two teams met. Though the game was a bit chippy, they didn't come close to pulling a New York Islanders-like brouhaha to avenge a previous slight. The Knicks sail into the All-Star break two games above .500, on course for a playoff appearance and only one win shy of last year's total. In Newark, just when you thought the Nets were out, they've been pulled back in by Denver, as the Nuggets made some exploratory phone calls to try to get the Nets re-interested in an Anthony deal, and Mikhail Prokhorov is on board and will get involved during All-Star weekend. As for the games, the Nets again had a losing week, going 1-3. And they didn't try very hard either.
The Opposite: Len Lesser passed away on Wednesday at the age of 88. The character actor is best known, of course, as Uncle Leo on Seinfeld. Which reminds us of the episode where George Costanza realizes that every instinct he's ever had is wrong, so he does the opposite. His life completely turns around, while Elaine goes into a downward spiral and Jerry remains even Steven. Isn't that what happened for the first six weeks of 2011 in the world of New York/New Jersey hockey? For the first three months of the season, the New Jersey Devils were the George Costanza of hockey, but instead of ordering tuna salad they switched to chicken salad and they've been doing nothing but winning ever since. I guess that makes Jacques Lemaire the chicken salad of the NHL. Meanwhile, right around the same time, the New York Rangers pulled an Elaine as they couldn't buy a win for the longest time and the New York Islanders have been right around .500 in games played in 2011, though they've been on a roll lately. For the week, the Rangers went 2-1, and with all those players returning from injury, they're finally starting to find their sea legs, coming out on top in their last two games. And Henrik Lundqvist notched his 200th career win on Thursday night, in the team's gritty victory over the Kings.
Fists of Fury: The Islanders played the game of the week with their MMA-like battle with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. The Wild West broke out in a big way, but lost in all the hoopla was the fact that the Isles scored nine goals in the game. And let's face it, everything the Islanders did in that game as a team, Matt Cooke pretty much does singlehandedly every night he plays. Garry Howatt must have been watching from afar with a big smile on his face. Not only did they win that game, the Islanders scored seven more goals to defeat Buffalo on Sunday, they whipped Ottawa in a shootout on Tuesday (with Nathan Lawson picking up his first NHL win, and Michael Grabner scoring yet another goal) but they didn't stand a chance against Boston on Thursday. Hey, if the New Jersey Devils can yap about surging to the playoffs, why can't the Islanders? The Devils are one point ahead of the Islanders, and of course won both of their games this week, defeating San Jose and Carolina. They still have six teams ahead of them for the eighth-place spot and are 12 points behind the Hurricanes, but they're at least making things interesting around here.
Pitchers & Catchers: Pitchers and catchers reported this week, and coincidentally both the New York Yankees and New York Mets have numerous question marks when it comes to pitching and catching. As the players began trickling in early this week, it was quite a gang of misfits, castoffs, throwaways, head cases and Biggest Loser candidates that reported to the two camps. While CC Sabathia lost weight by cutting back on the Cap'n Crunch, Joba Chamberlain, who's fighting for a spot in the bullpen, came into camp well over weight, which is no way to impress anybody. The if-I-only-had-a-brain twins A.J. Burnett and Oliver Perez strolled into Florida. The Mets changed the locks on the clubhouse door and tried to lock out Perez but he, unfortunately, found his way into Met camp anyway. The previously very angry Frankie Rodriguez showed up, and while he did sound legitimately contrite about his past violent actions, he vowed to continue his ridiculous on-field celebratory antics. And in a surprise guest appearance, Jason Isringhausen appeared out of nowhere to try out for the Mets. Who's next? Butch Huskey? Bernard Gilkey?
R.I.P. Joe Frazier & Chuck Tanner: The former Mets manager died this week at the age of 88. Frazier had a brief playing career as an outfielder, spanning four seasons with the Indians, Cardinals, Reds and Orioles. After winning the Minor League Manager of the Year award in 1975, Frazier took the reins of the Mets the following year, and led them to a respectable 86-76 record. That was the year Dave Kingman belted 37 home runs but missed a chunk of the season when he broke his thumb and Jerry Koosman was jobbed out of the Cy Young, when he went 21-10 with a 2.69 ERA. Frazier's Mets began 1977 with a 15-30 mark, which got the manager canned, leading to the Joe Torre era, the trade of Tom Seaver and a slide into oblivion. One of his contemporaries, Tanner, also passed away this week, at the age of 82. Born on July 4 like George Steinbrenner, Tanner had a short playing career as an outfielder with the Braves, Cubs, Indians and Angels. He achieved much more success as a manager, though, leading the White Sox, A's, Pirates and Braves. He was named Manager of the Year in 1972 with Chicago, and won a World Series in 1979 with the We Are Family Pirates (that series may have featured the worst uniforms in World Series history, with the black-and-yellow Pirates beating the orange-clad Orioles). Tanner was an eternal optimist, and could find the positive in anything. What does he have to do with New York? Not much, but he was the one who turned Goose Gossage from a starter to a reliever (and also Wilbur Wood from a reliever to a starter), so the Yankees have him to thank for one of their all-time greats out of the bullpen.