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Memories from MSG

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published March 14. 2013 4:00AM

Everyone has a story. And that's the story. Whether a coach, player, writer, broadcaster, fan. Everyone has a story from the best weekend of the year, from one of the truly iconic sporting events in our history.

Basketball on Broadway.

And that's why we'll be awash in romance and remembrance this weekend, a celebration and a funeral for the Big East Tournament at the Garden.

Everyone has a story.

Maybe you were there when Ray Allen made the miracle shot.

Maybe you stayed out too late one night in Manhattan and lived to tell about it. And still do.

Maybe you got a chill the first time you heard the great John F.X. Condon welcome you to Madison Square Garden, the world's most famous arena.

Maybe your friends left you behind one night in New York.

Maybe you just looked forward to it all year.

Everyone has a story.

And I believe this to my soul: The Big East Tournament meant more to us here in Connecticut than anybody else.

Before the Big East, we were sporting bumpkins. I know we had the Whalers, sure. But it was hockey, bereft of the same cachet as baseball, football and basketball. The Big East was our first foray into the big time. Connecticut goes to Boston. New York. Philly. Washington. Places we never had cause to visit to see our own.

And then came Dave Gavitt, who had one of the most important ideas in the history of college sports.

And then came the decision to move the annual cotillion to kingdom of basketball gods at 7th Avenue and 32nd Street, Manhattan.

And then came Jim Calhoun who dared his program to be great, leaving a trail of hoarse voices, sweaty palms and mouths agape at some of the most famous arena's most famous memories.

And from the wilderness, we became the story. Us. All of us.

Think about us before the Big East. We all followed UConn basketball. And while there was an occasional murmur of significance, the Yankee Conference was irrelevant to anyone outside New England. Suddenly, we had reason to invade the city. Wear the UConn stuff in and out of all the shops, hotels and gin mills. Maybe a little too much like the Clampetts. But who could blame us? It was like we were out on parole.

To this day, my single greatest sporting memory was a walk down 7th Avenue one Saturday afternoon in 1996. On the Garden marquee read, "Allen vs. Allen." Translation: Ray Allen vs. Allen Iverson. It was the Georgetown-UConn championship game that night.

UConn had won previous tournaments. But the idea that UConn - still a relatively little place to many of us who grew up here - could co-star on the marquee outside basketball Utopia was a moment to pause and appreciate the hope and wonder of what was evolving.

And the game? Please. Ray Allen's circus shot, framed so brilliantly by UConn play-by-play voice Joe D'Ambrosio - still, I believe, his greatest call - did justice to the hype.

I have so many other memories.

Runyons.

Staying out so late one night/morning, even the members of the oldest profession were seen calling it a day as we returned to the hotel.

Hearing John Condon.

The inimitable horn.

McSorley's Old Ale House, where the choices are "light" or "dark."

Watching BC win it for the first time in 1997 and seeing the utter joy on the face of Jim O'Brien, still my favorite human being on the planet.

Six overtimes, returning to the hotel after a night/morning of writing with Gavin Keefe after 4 a.m.

The blizzard of 1993, seeing 7th Avenue desolate on 8 p.m. on a Saturday night.

There are so many more.

If nothing else, the Big East's breakup and the end of the Garden experience teaches us that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Even though we lost in the end, the memories will fill our days with joy.

I bet you won't complete this weekend without sharing a story from your days watching the tournament. It was the greatest weekend to be alive: you, your friends, your team and the city.

Thanks for the memories, Big East.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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