When the Garden Was Eden
Clyde, the Captain, Dollar Bill, and the Glory Days of the New York Knicks
By Harvey Araton
(Harper, Hardcover, 9780061956232, 368pp.)
Publication Date: October 2011
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The late 1960s and early 1970s, in New York City and America at large, were years marked by political tumult, social unrestand the best professional basketball ever played. Paradise, for better or worse, was a hardwood court in Midtown Manhattan.
When the Garden Was Eden is the definitive account of how the New York Knickerbockers won their first and only championships, and in the process provided the nation no small escape from the Vietnam War, the tragedy at Kent State, and the last vestiges of Jim Crow. The Knicks were more than a team; they were a symbol of harmony, the sublimation of individual personalities for the greater collective good.
No one is better suited to revive the old chants of Dee-fense! that rocked Madison Square Garden or the joy that radiated courtside than Harvey Araton, who has followed the Knicks, old and new, for decadesfirst as a teenage fan, then as a young sports reporter with the New York Post, and now as a writer and columnist for the New York Times. Araton has traveled to the Louisiana home of the Captain, Willis Reed (after writing a column years earlier that led to his abrupt firing as the Knicks short-lived coach); he has strolled the lush gardens of Walt Clyde Fraziers St. Croix oasis; discussed the politics of that turbulent era with Senator Bill Bradley; toured Baltimores church basement basketball leagues with Black Jesus himself, Earl the Pearl Monroe; played memory games with Jerry the Brain Lucas; explored the Tao of basketball with Phil Action Jackson; and sat through eulogies for Dave DeBusschere, the lunch-bucket, 23-year-old player-coach lured from Detroit, and Red Holzman, the scrappy Jewish guard who became a coaching legend.
In When the Garden Was Eden, Araton not only traces the history of New Yorks beloved franchisefrom Ned Irish to Spike Lee to Carmelo Anthonybut profiles the lives and careers of one of sports all-time great teams, the Old Knicks. With measured prose and shoe-leather reporting, Araton relives their most glorious triumphs and bitter rivalries, and casts light on a time all but forgotten outside of pregame highlight reels and nostalgic reunionsa time when the Garden, Madison Square, was its own sort of Eden.
Harvey Araton has been a sports columnist for the New York Times since 1991. He lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with his wife and two hoops-loving sons.
“Brilliant . . . smartly written, featuring tons of interviews with the Knicks of the Phil Jackson-Clyde-Reed era.”
-New York Magazine
“Harvey Araton, one of our most cherished basketball writers, has evocatively rendered the team that New York never stops pining for—the Old Knicks. More than a nostalgic chronicle . . . it’s a portrait of a group of proud, idiosyncratic men and the city that needed them.”
-Jonathan Mahler, author of Ladies and Gentleman, the Bronx is Burning
“I wasn’t there when Clyde and Willis and Dollar Bill were lighting up the Garden, let alone barnstorming Philadelphia church basements, but after reading When the Garden Was Eden I now feel like I was courtside with Woody and Dancing Harry.”
-Will Leitch, founding editor of Deadspin
“Harvey Araton, who writes the way Earl the Pearl played, has made the Old Knicks new again. I learned so much and I was there.”
-Robert Lipsyte, author of An Accidental Sportswriter
“Beautifully titled, wonderfully written . . . When the Garden Was Eden is a book about the assembly, success and failures of the Red Holzman-coached early ’70s Knicks. But with the then-ongoing Vietnam War and general social unrest serving as the backdrop, it’s actually about so much more than that.”
“The coming NBA season may not happen due to labor strife. This book will help fans weatherthe storm by celebrating basketball at its very best: five players working as one, sharing the glory and achieving the ultimate success.”
-Booklist (starred review)
“Araton is the perfect writer for the job. . . . [ When the Garden was Eden] a must for basketball fans and a super-must for New York sports nuts.”