February 09, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) Think basketball is bad in New York now? Marv Albert remembers when fans would go to Madison Square Garden and wouldn't even stick around to watch the Knicks.

The days of NBA doubleheaders there are long gone - a good thing, so both of New York's bumbling ballclubs can't lose at the same place on the same day.

Fans in the Big Apple remain just as passionate about good basketball as they were then, when the chance to see someone like Bill Russell made the opening act the main event. They get their chance this weekend when the NBA All-Star festivities come to town, and locals say the enthusiasm can't be diminished no matter how many games the Knicks or Nets have lost.

''I don't think it matters because you have all these great stars coming there and I think it's going to be a wild scene, both Saturday in Brooklyn and then Sunday at the Garden,'' said Albert, a New York native and longtime Knicks broadcaster who will call the game on TNT.

Breaking from what had become standard procedure of taking the mid-winter showcase to a warm-weather city, the NBA decided to stay home in 2015 and show off two of its flashiest arenas: Brooklyn's Barclays Center, opened in 2012, and famed Madison Square Garden, recently renovated over the course of three years, and both with $1 billion price tags.

The buildings may be magical, but the basketball is miserable. The Knicks are headed toward their worst season ever with a 10-41 record entering Monday, while the Nets were 21-29, though still in the playoff race thanks to the mediocrity of the Eastern Conference.

Subway stations and trains have been decorated with pictures of the NBA's best, but there's nothing the league can do to clean up the Knicks and Nets. No matter, says Commissioner Adam Silver.

''I know that as a New Yorker, I don't think interest in people's favorite teams wanes necessarily because the team isn't successful in a particular year,'' he said last month at a press conference before a game in London, before the Knicks showed they were equally inept on the other side of the Atlantic.

''So I expect tremendous excitement around the game and the festivities in New York, certainly based on the number of requests I'm getting for tickets. There's no lack of interest in New York.''

Brooklyn gets the Friday and Saturday events, All-Star Saturday being highlighted by a 3-point contest featuring Golden State teammates Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, and Atlanta sharpshooter Kyle Korver. The game Sunday is at MSG, ''the world's most famous arena'' where Joe Frazier beat Muhammad Ali in the ''Fight of the Century,'' and Willis Reed gamely limped out of the tunnel to play in Game 7 against the Lakers and spark the Knicks to the 1970 NBA championship.

The building remains revered by today's players, no matter how bad the Knicks team is that's waiting when they get there.

''Having the game here at MSG is special and to be an All-Star and suiting up and taking the floor here is going to be a memory for a long time,'' Curry said Saturday after the Warriors beat the Knicks.

Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony has kept playing through a sore left knee and all the losses in part because he can't wait to play in the All-Star game - perhaps his last highlight this season. Even though he's going to his workplace, he won't be thinking about work.

''At the end of the day it's still an achievement, still an accomplishment. I can't go into that weekend thinking about kind of, what we've been going through throughout the regular season with the Knicks,'' he said. ''It's a just a moment kind of to get away from that for a minute and just enjoy that weekend.''

Anthony was born in Brooklyn. So was Michael Jordan, the game's MVP in 1998 the last time MSG hosted it. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA's career scoring leader, is another New Yorker.

So the city has a tradition of basketball excellence that will never go away no matter how much the Knicks or Nets chip away at it. All-Star weekend is the next chapter.

''Regardless of what the Knicks or the Nets are doing, the city is the Mecca of basketball,'' said TNT analyst Kenny Smith, who grew up in Queens before winning two NBA titles in Houston.

''I think that the city will be excited, regardless of what the Knicks, the Nets, St. John's, Fordham University or any other teams are doing. It's a city game. We own that and we love it, and we relish the fact that we are that.''

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