The 50 Greatest Moments at Madison Square Garden

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HOLLANDER: Well C.J., it was a night for ages last week when you and I attended a VIP advanced screening of the final episode of the MSG Network 10-part documentary series, The 50 Greatest Moments at Madison Square Garden in “The Theater” at the Garden. By now our readers must know what the network chose as its top five moments: (1) Knicks Championship 1970 , (2) Rangers Stanley Cup 1994, (3) Ali-Frazier I 1971, (4) The 9/11 inspired “Concert for New York” 2001 (4) Visit by Pope John Paul 1979.

We could long debate the merits of the top 50 choices. (There’s no debating the utter lack of class shown by the Rangers fans in attendance who booed 1970’s Knicks footage because the Rangers 1994 Championship moment wasn’t awarded the top spot.) Instead, I think you and I should choose the top 50 celebrity sighting from that gala, star-studded evening. 

I’m still not sure why comedian Jimmy Fallon was seated among the Garden legends but I guess he made as much sense choosing Matthew Modine, looking completely baked, to be the series narrator.

Mark Messier patiently answered questions from reporters but perked up when I asked him about his Lower East Side hot-spot, Lansky Lounge. “We had a good time there, eh?” He must’ve mistaken me for his co-owner Tim Robbins.
Nobody ever mistakes Walt “Clyde” Frazier, dressed in wide-lapelled, three-piece splendor; right down to his bone-white alligator shoes. A reporter who looked exactly like Ugly Betty’s America Ferrera tortured Clyde with endless queries about his malapropism’s until WABC Channel 7 Eyewitness News sports anchor Scott Clark hip-checked her to the side.

Bert Sugar was blabbing to Al Trautwig—try getting a word in edgewise with those two. Billy Baldwin leered hungrily at Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Anne V, who sipped Diet Coke among a bevy of gorgeous models. One looked like a young Silda Wall Spitzer.

In my eyes, the man of the night was Smokin’ Joe Frazier. Sporting a velvet fedora, the former Heavyweight Champ out-dressed Clyde, out-cooled Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz, and, as we all witnessed again, out-and-out pummeled Muhammad Ali.

SULLIVAN: MSG did do a great job presenting a trip down memory lane. Ranger fans once again proved why hockey is—and always will be—a niche sport. Their booing the 1970 Knicks was just classless.

One could argue that the March 1971 fight between Ali and Frazier was the greatest moment in the Garden’s history. But a great moment for me on this fine night was when Joe Frazier grabbed me and gave me a true 1970’s style soul handshake. The Way Smokin’ Joe Frazier danced around I was waiting for his former back-up band, The Knockouts, to break into a song.

Later, I was talking with Spike Lee about how he finally recognized the Irish in his film, The 25th Hour. He gave props to Edward Norton. Myself and Firefighter Mike Moran (he of the famed MSG yell “Osama Bin Laden can kiss my Royal Irish ass” at the Concert for New York City in October of 2001) gave Lee the “what for” about his size. Lee was in fine form and acted like a true New Yorker. He also agreed with me that while Willis Reed is a fine gentleman, he has shrunk down quite a few inches since his playing days.

It was funny watching Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz dressed like a kid in a sand box. Horovitz is now 40. At that age can you still call yourself a Beastie “Boy”? Even better was seeing that little actor from television’s The Practice, Michael Badalucco, walk around like a confused usher. I called him Son of Sam (he played David Berkowitz in Spike Lee’s 1999 film Summer of Sam). Badalucco smiled at me, but suddenly an evil little look appeared on his face as his eyes followed Spike Lee around the Garden.

HOLLANDER: You were fidgety the whole night, just itching to run upstairs to catch a few verses of “Mandy” at the Barry Manilow concert. I can’t see why “Sopranos” actor Steven Schirripa was there. But as you said, “The guy would show up to the an opening of a can of fruit …”

John Starks took a curtain call, while Garden photographer George Kalinsky needed the hook in the post-screening Q&A, going on and on and on. It was hard to tell if Chazz Palminteri was there because most MSG execs vaguely resemble the New York tough-guy thespian. Former Rangers tough-guy cum team exec Adam Graves looked ready to kick everybody’s ass.

At the pre-screening cocktail reception, I thought I saw Ray Liotta and Ben Affleck playing quarters, but I was mistaken. I also thought we might see O.J. Simpson with fallen book editor Judith Regan, but they didn’t make it.
Michael Bloomberg was probably exhausted from his State of the City address the night before or he surely would have been there. Though, he managed to make press conference for the naming of the Nets “Barclays Arena” in Brooklyn that morning, didn’t he? He’ll jump at any chance to slight MSG President James Dolan for beating the Mayor on the West Side Stadium.  

I particularly enjoyed when you harassed self-important NY1 reporter Budd Mishkin. But my favorite moment had to be when, at the reception, you keenly observed celebrity after celebrity filing into a side room, the door shutting quickly behind them. “We gotta see what’s going in there,” you said. 

“Go on in,” I said.

“No, you go,” you insisted.

I approached the entrance and read the brass sign on the door which explained everything: “MEN”S ROOM.”

SULLIVAN: Yes but just what was going on in that bathroom?

And speaking of Politicians, where was former Mayor Ed Koch? Now that he is a NY Press columnist I was looking forward to chatting him up. I thought I saw Hillary Clinton grabbing Walt Frazier behind the curtains looking to get an endorsement from him to fight the Barack Obama wave engulfing her presidential hopes.

Jay-Z was outside the Garden, along with Method Man, beefing about their concerts not being considered a great moment. But all in all it was a great night at MSG. With the Rangers and Knicks the joint has seen a dearth of great moments in the last few years. We have to look back for our glory. More is the pity.

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