New York Daily News

‘Greatest’ Gives Garden A Winner

31st, 2006

Madison Square Garden’s MSG network embarks tonight on a 10-part, 10-hour documentary series that is totally, undeniably self-congratulatory.

It’s also totally, undeniably entertaining.

“The 50 Greatest Moments at Madison Square Garden,” premiering tonight at 9, is a countdown overview of the most memorable times under the Garden banner. The Knicks claim 13 slots and the Rangers 10, which leaves lots of room for things like boxing, college basketball, concerts, a papal visit and even Wrestlemania.

Television churns out so many countdown series these days that you can almost imagine the staffs at E! or VH1 reading this and then concocting a multipart “100 Greatest TV Countdown Specials.” But this MSG effort is different, because it takes the trouble, and takes the time, to do it right.

Fifty events spread over 10 one-hour shows – that’s five per hour. It’s time enough not only to mention and recall events, but to enjoy and relive each of them, and put them in true perspective.

Tonight’s bottom-of-the-countdown entries indicate both the depth and breadth of “50 Greatest Moments.” Ranked No. 50, from 1999, is the Evander Holyfield-Lennox Lewis fight, in which Holyfield predicted victory in round three. (He was wrong.)

No. 49 covers the draft by lottery, first game and retirement ceremony of Knicks star Patrick Ewing. The next three, in ascending order: The Grateful Dead, with 52 concerts from 1979-94; Syracuse hoops star Pearl Washington, dazzling fans in the early ’80s, and, at No. 46, Wayne Gretzky in his Rangers jersey scoring a hat trick against Florida in 1997.

The hat trick shows off this program’s best tricks as well. Not only do we hear from sportscasters and sportswriters who broadcast or reported the game, we hear from Gretzky. And we see, in slow motion and from enough angles, the ballet of his back-and-forth moves before that final shot that makes it just as thrilling to watch today.

In the rest of this hour, we also listen to recollections from Ewing, from the Dead’s Bob Weir and from Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Mark Messier and John McEnroe (who played the Garden with his guitar, not racket, joining the Pretenders as an opening act for The Rolling Stones). In future episodes, as we ascend toward the Top 10, we’ll hear from everyone from Spike Lee to Hulk Hogan.

Historically, the special is a bit shortsighted. Only five of the 50 events predate the 1968 opening of the current, fourth incarnation of Madison Square Garden. Those include Marilyn Monroe serenading John F. Kennedy on his birthday in 1962 and the classic Joe Louis vs. Rocky Marciano heavyweight championship fight in 1951.

Surely there are other events, from previous eras and Gardens, that could have made the cut, had “50 Greatest Moments” creators Michael Bair, Michael Lardner and Larry Israel wanted to be more inclusive.

Everything that’s here, though, is entertaining, and presented a lot more reverently and comprehensively than a lot of multi-part salutes.