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The mecca of basketball

“WELCOME TO MADISON SQUARE GARDEN, THE WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS ARENA!”

Those will be the words the 19,812 patrons of Madison Square Garden hear blaring over the public address system just before tipoff of what could be Mike Krzyzewski’s 1,000th victory as a head coach in Division I college basketball.

And truly, there is no better place than Madison Square Garden for such an historic event to take place. After all, in addition to being the world’s most famous arena, it is also the Mecca of Basketball.

Having grown up attending dozens of Knicks games each year and spending a summer working in the hallowed halls of The Garden, I can attest to the spiritual feeling one gets from just being inside the circular arena right in the heart of Manhattan, from looking up and seeing the names of legendary athletes and performers waving from the rafters.

The list of iconic moments at The Garden stretches longer than I could ever reproduce. The Knicks and the Rangers of course have their share of legendary moments. In 1971, the captain, Willis Reed, limped onto the floor for Game 7 of the NBA Finals and hit the first two hoops of the game to give the Knicks their first championship. In 1994, in a double-overtime game, Stephane Matteau found the back of the net to topple the rival Devils and send the Rangers to the Stanley Cup. Then in 1999, with three seconds left and trailing by three, Larry Johnson somehow canned a triple while drawing a foul, netting the Knicks four points and putting them on course to become the first 8-seed to reach the NBA Finals.

But providing great moments for the teams who call it home doesn’t make The Garden so special. It’s everything else.

The 1951 fight where the young Rocky Marciano knocked out his hero Joe Louis and proceeded to cry, so conflicted about defeating his rival. The 1971 “Fight of the Century” between undefeated legends Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier, in which Frazier earned the win by unanimous decision in the 15th round.

Madison Square Garden’s finger prints can be found in politics as well. President John F. Kennedy was at The Garden for his birthday in 1962, when Marilyn Monroe performed the most infamous rendition of “Happy Birthday” known to man. The Garden played host to Pope John Paul II after his election in 1979, where 20,000 youths were inspired by his words. And in 1992, Madison Square Garden was where young William Jefferson Clinton received his nomination for the Presidency of the United States.

The Garden is also a notable concert venue. In 1971 Madison Square Garden was the home for a benefit concert for Bangladesh, which featured Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and other stars. The philanthropic endeavor was repeated in 2001 after the attacks of September 11, in 2005 in response to Hurricane Katrina, and in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy.

Not only is Madison Square Garden iconic in general, but Krzyzewski also has personal ties to the Mecca of Basketball.

As Duke’s head coach, Krzyzewski has coached 32 games at The Garden in 35 years, compiling a 24-8 record. His Duke teams have outscored opponents by 6.83 points per game. Krzyzewski toppled nine ranked foes at The Garden. He won four Preseason NIT Tournaments spanning three decades, two Dreyfus Classics, an Aeropostale Classic, a 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer and a CARQUEST Autoparts Classic, all on the hallowed court at 4 Pennsylvania Plaza.

And, of course, on November 15, 2011, he made history by earning his record-breaking 903rd win on that same stage where all the greatness mentioned before occurred. Just as there is the iconic picture of Patrick Ewing raising his arms in triumph atop the scorers table in 1994, or the one of “The Great One” Wayne Gretzky taking his final skate around the ice in 1999, there is the picture of Krzyzewski and his mentor and former record holder Bob Knight embracing. Again, an emotional scene at The Garden, just like Marciano when he surpassed his idol.

Now, just over three years later, Krzyzewski will once again captivate the sporting world when he attempts to win his 1000th game this Sunday against St. John’s, a team against whom he is 5-2 at Madison Square Garden.

And what better place is there for a historic moment like this one than The Garden?

Just like Willis Reed and Stephane Matteau, like Joe Frazier and Pope John Paul II, this Sunday afternoon Mike Krzyzewski can add another unforgettable moment to the rich history of Madison Square Garden. To the fabric of what makes it The World’s Most Famous Arena.

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