basketball legends gather at the Garden


There’s serious tension with Russia. Folks dressed like Mad Men characters roam Manhattan. A young, charismatic president is in office. And Madison Square Garden is a site for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Sound current? All of those statements were last true in 1961—but history will repeat itself when the Sweet 16 is played at MSG on Friday, March 28.

It’s been 53 years since the Garden hosted March Madness, and to celebrate its return, some of the sport’s best ambassadors gathered on March 26 to recall playing on the fabled midtown hardwood. NYU’s own Cal Ramsey joined Oscar Robertson, Jim Calhoun, Dwayne “Pearl” Washington, and others for a stroll down memory lane (aka: 7th avenue) on the eve of the 2014 East Regional rounds.

Ramsey (Stern '59)—an All-American at NYU who is assistant coach for the men’s basketball team and helps host NYU’s annual Cal Ramsey Distinguished Lecture Series at SCPS’s Tisch Center—played one season for the New York Knicks, and is the team’s longtime community relations representative. On stage in the Garden, he dazzled the crowd by citing the best stats from his playing days—joking that his defense once even held Robertson to a mere 48 points.

Here are some other MSG memories from the panel: 

Cal Ramsey:

“I went to NYU because it was a great academic institution, and I also knew they played their home games in Madison Square Garden. That meant I got to play 12 games a year there!”

On playing against Oscar Robertson and the University of Cincinnati at MSG on Dec. 4, 1958 (NYU lost the game 88-67):
“At first I thought, ‘He’s not doing anything I can’t do. Then I realized, he has skills that you just can’t describe.”

Advice to young players:
“Play hard, but study harder. I’ve been a teacher, assistant principal, and TV commentator. That wouldn’t have happened without a college education."

Favorite MSG victory:
Feb. 12, 1959: Beating Jerry West’s highly ranked West Virginia University team 72-70 in overtime.

Memorable MSG loss:
Dec. 20, 1956: A 64-59 defeat that went down to the wire against a University of North Carolina team that finished undefeated in 1956-57.

Oscar Robertson
(a Hall of Famer known as the “Big O” and ranked as one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players)

On playing against Cal Ramsey and NYU at MSG:
“He said he won, right? [laughs]. It was always a rough game. Back then, we didn’t have any scouting. If you know basketball, you know there are only so many things your opponent can do. I just went out and played.”

Jim Calhoun
(three-time NCAA champion coach at the University of Connecticut)

“There’s magic in this building. Magic! Even though I don’t seem it, I’m a romantic. And MSG and basketball is a great romance.”

Dwayne “Pearl” Washington
(former New Jersey Nets player and All-American at Syracuse)

“I always came to MSG and put on a show. That was my goal—making people happy to see me play.”

Art Hyland:
(former Princeton team captain and assistant coach)

On watching games in the old MSG at Eighth Avenue and 49th Street:
“The smoke was incredible. You had to look through a cloud to see the court.”