The New York Times Book Review
When the Garden Was Eden: Clyde, the Captain, Dollar Bill, and the Glory Days of the New York Knicksby Harvey Araton
In the tradition of The Boys of Summer and The Bronx Is Burning, New York Times sports columnist Harvey Araton delivers a fascinating look at the 1970s New York Knicks—part autobiography, part sports history, part epic, set against the tumultuous era when Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, and Bill Bradley reigned supreme in the world of/em>/em>/em>… See more details below
In the tradition of The Boys of Summer and The Bronx Is Burning, New York Times sports columnist Harvey Araton delivers a fascinating look at the 1970s New York Knicks—part autobiography, part sports history, part epic, set against the tumultuous era when Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, and Bill Bradley reigned supreme in the world of basketball. Perfect for readers of Jeff Pearlman’s The Bad Guys Won!, Peter Richmond’s Badasses, and Pat Williams’s Coach Wooden, Araton’s revealing story of the Knicks’ heyday is far more than a review of one of basketball’s greatest teams’ inspiring story—it is, at heart, a stirring recreation of a time and place when the NBA championships defined the national dream.
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When the Garden Was EdenClyde, the Captain, Dollar Bill, and the Glory Days of the New York Knicks
By Harvey Araton
HarperCollinsCopyright © 2011 Harvey Araton
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDOWN HOME
It was a hot summer night in Ruston, Louisiana.The air inside
Chili's, a bustling outlet just off I-20, was almost heavy enough to
make breathing not worth the effort. The A/C system appeared to
be waging the same losing battle as the makeup on the faces of several
waitresses. But Willis Reed paid the wet heat no mind. He was
much too tickled at tonight's role reversal. Here, a few thousand miles
south of Manhattan, Reed's best buddy and oldest friendHoward
Brownwas the name brand, the guy with fans clamoring for his
attention, the celebrity.
"That's what happens when you're a teacher and you have a long
career in the same area," said Reed, former NBA champion and
national sports hero. "You know everyone."
Reed and Brown, both age 67, live not far from here on adjacent
properties near the Grambling State University campus where they
once shared a dorm room.
"Howard helped me get the land," Reed said.
"Whenever Willis would come back to visit, he'd stay with me,"
Brown said from the seat across from mine. "And about the time he
was moving back, he said, 'If you want to build a house, why not right
The two might as well be brothers, and Reed calls them that. They
met in the late 1950s at the all-black Westside High School, a few
miles away from Bernice, a 30-minute drive north from Ruston. Willis
and Howard both played on Westside High's basketball team, Reed
the star big man and Brown a 6'0" guard who, according to Reed,
never met a shot he didn't like.
Well, only "until it came down to the wire," said Brown. "Then
Coach would say, 'Get it inside'which meant 'Give it to Willis.' "
Give it to Willis. A smirk grew across Brown's face, and he looked
across the table at Reed: "Remember how Coach Stone would hold the
bus for you?"
Reed cackled at the memory, while Brown narrated:
"We'd all be there, ready to go, except Willis. There was a guy
named Duke who drove the bus, and he'd be looking at Coach, waiting
for him to say, 'Let's go.' But then Coach would stand up, put his
hands in his pocket, and say, 'I've got to go get my keys.' He'd go back
in the building and wait until he saw Willis walking up to the bus.
Then he'd come back on and say, 'Crank it up, Duke.' "
And so the bus would roll with Reed on board, on the way to
another all-black school, another audition for a young man destined
for stardom in the heart of New York. But all of that had happened
decades ago. It was ancient and unknown history to the Chili's crowd,
sweating over their fajitas.
The night manager stopped by our table while making her rounds
to comment on my accent, which doesn't sound too Louisianan.
"He's here to work on a book," Brown informed the perky young
"Really," she said. "What's it about?"
"This man right here and the basketball team he used to play for,"
Brown said. "This is Willis Reed of the New York Knicks; his photo is
on your wall."
He pointed to the entryway of the restaurant and there it was,
along with other greats from this area, one uncommonly rich in
basketball lore: Bill Russell, a native of Monroe, due east on I-20; Robert
Parish, another Celtics Hall of Fame center, out of Shreveport, an
hour away on the interstate in the other direction; Karl Malone, who
put Ruston's Louisiana Tech on the college basketball map; Orlando
Woolridge, a cousin of Reed's and a gifted kid who played for Digger
Phelps at Notre Dameon Reed's recommendationand later in
the NBA; and, of course, Reed himself, who hilariously wasn't good
enough for most of the major universities up north that deigned at the
beginning of the sixties to recruit a player or two from the growing
pool of African Americans.
Excerpted from When the Garden Was Eden by Harvey Araton Copyright © 2011 by Harvey Araton. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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