Madison Square Garden has become synonymous with New York City high school basketball champions, because it has hosted the Public School Athletic League boys’ and girls’ title games for the past 23 years.
“The teams and the players they don’t say, ‘we are going to the PSAL championship,’ ” South Shore girls basketball coach Anwar Gladden said. “They say, ‘we are going to the Garden.’ ”
That last word should be replaced with “Barclays” after the Garden announced it would not host the Class AA games this season because of scheduling conflicts. The Barclays Center is the no-brainer replacement for the league this year — and from now on — for a lot of reasons.
Brooklyn teams have made it a habit of reaching the Class AA finals in recent years. A Brooklyn team has won the league’s boys’ basketball title for the last eight seasons — often by defeating a fellow borough rival.
On the girls’ side, South Shore has made it to three of the last five championship games and 15-time defending champion Murry Bergtraum sits in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge in Lower Manhattan. The game has become a Brooklyn event.
“I was really hoping it would be at the Barclays this time,” South Shore junior Brianna Fraser said. “It’s a closer environment, so I think a lot more family and friends would be able to come.”
Building a long-term relationship with the Barclays Center could give the Public School Athletic League a clean slate after a brawl in the stands led to 21 arrests in 2007 at the Garden during a game between Boys & Girls and Abraham Lincoln. Tickets were limited and distributed through the league after that. Games, which have gone on without an issue since then, were moved to as early as 10 am and noon.
The game lost a little zazz without a large boisterous crowd, but Barclays’s cozier confines can make a small crowd feel bigger than it is.
Barclays should try to one up the Garden by creating an even more memorable experience for the players.
Murry Bergtraum coach Ed Grezinsky, an East Flatbush native, joked that if they played the title game on the blacktops of Marine Park it would still be important because it’s the final, but it needs to be played at a professional arena.
“I think the Barclays would be next-best thing,” he said.
The Barclays Center will continue to be second best in high school hoops, until it establishes itself as a better venue that provides a better experience.
The opportunity is there for the taking.