Madison Square Garden (MSG) will welcome the New York Knicks tonight into an arena with premium seating suspended from the roof, a pair of 600-square-foot video screens at the entrance and 18 fully renovated luxury suites, the results of a $1 billion makeover.
The team’s newest championship banner is now 40 years old.
The Knicks begin defending their first division title since 1994 against the Milwaukee Bucks, after their most marketable player, National Basketball Association scoring champion Carmelo Anthony, said he planned to become a free agent after the season. The Knicks need a player like him both on the court and for the business plan, and with the Brooklyn Nets a potential contender, Anthony’s future probably will become the underlying story of the team’s season, said sports economist Andrew Zimbalist.
“With the Nets rising, the large investment in MSG and the Knicks’ long drought, there’s never been a better time to husband resources and make the plunge,” said Zimbalist, a professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.
The basketball business of Madison Square Garden Co., which owns the arena and the Knicks, has grown since the 29-year-old Anthony arrived in 2011, according to John Tinker, a senior media analyst for New York-based Maxim Group LLC. With Anthony as the top scorer for one of the league’s marquee franchises, the team has raised season ticket prices more than 50 percent and television ratings have more than tripled. The three-year arena renovation was privately funded.
“The Garden wasn’t even part of the conversation three years ago,” Tinker said. “What Anthony did was make the Knicks part of the conversation again.”
The Knicks have the 10th-best odds to win the 2014 NBA title, according to online sportsbook Bovada.lv. New York was chosen by 75.9 percent of NBA general managers to finish the year behind the Nets, who play 6 miles (10 kilometers) away in the one-year-old Barclays Center, which also cost $1 billion.
Jim Boeheim, who coached Anthony to a national title at Syracuse University in 2003, said the former Final Four Most Outstanding Player must focus on an NBA championship, even if it means leaving New York. Anthony could win a title with the Knicks if paired with a second star player, Boeheim said.
“Your legacy is tied to how many championships you’ve won, and all the good free agents try to get to a place where they can win a title,” he said last week in a telephone interview. “I don’t think Carmelo can do it without that second guy, but I’m not sure that anybody else can either.”
Last year Anthony scored a league-high 28.7 points a game as the Knicks finished 54-28 and won the Atlantic Division. The team earned the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, losing to the No. 3 Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
This year, Anthony is a joint fourth favorite with 10-1 odds to win the league’s MVP award, according to Bovada, meaning a $10 bet would win $100 plus the original investment. He’s 3-1 to repeat as scoring champion, trailing only Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant.
The team last season won its first postseason series in 13 years, and it came during the Nets’ inaugural season in the Barclays Center. Brooklyn’s billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov this offseason traded for All-Stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, and Anthony said last month at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit that the Knicks will lose fans to the Nets in Brooklyn, which with 2.5 million people is New York’s most populated borough.
“There are some markets that definitely need elite players,” Wayne McDonnell, an assistant professor of sports management at New York University, said in a telephone interview. “This is a market of stars, and New York suffered for some time until Carmelo Anthony arrived.”
Basketball fans in the city opened their wallets to see him play. The Knicks have the highest average home resale listings in the NBA at $320.92, according to ticket-aggregator TiqIQ.com. That’s 56 percent higher than the team’s $206 average before his arrival in February 2011.
Should Anthony choose free agency, he would join a 2014 free-agent class that might include eight of the last nine NBA Finals Most Valuable Players. Five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant and 11-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki are in the final years of their contracts, and both LeBron James, a three-time league MVP, and Dwyane Wade can opt out after this season.
While the Los Angeles Lakers have said they intend to re-sign Bryant, the 16-time NBA champions have enough free salary space to make a move for Anthony. The Utah Jazz have the smallest payroll committed to the 2014-15 season, at $7.1 million, followed by the Lakers at $12.7 million and Philadelphia 76ers at $21.4 million, according to USA Today.
A comparable free-agent class three years ago resulted in James, Wade and Chris Bosh teaming up in Miami, where the Heat have been to three straight NBA Finals, winning the past two.
The Heat were valued at $364 million the season before James’s arrival in 2010, 12th best in the league, according to Forbes magazine. Over the course of the last three years the team’s value increased 72 percent, almost double the league average, to $625 million. The Knicks were ranked first at $1.1 billion; the Nets ninth at $530 million.
Knicks general manager Steve Mills said when he was hired last month that he wants to keep Anthony in New York. Mills declined in an e-mail to comment for this story.
Anthony has said that he needs a title to cement his NBA legacy. When he announced on Oct. 17 that he would exercise the early-termination option in his contract, he said he wouldn’t think about free agency until after the current season.
“When that time comes during the offseason I will definitely explore it,” Anthony said. “Does that mean I’m not coming back to New York? Not at all.”
The six-time All-Star is eligible for a five-year, $129 million contract if he stays. The most he could make elsewhere under the league’s collective bargaining agreement is a four-year-deal worth $96 million.
“Carmelo is at a point right now where you’re about a decade into your career and you’re going to have to look for championships,” said McDonnell, of NYU. “He has the money, he has the fame and accolades, but it’s the championship that will really put him into the pantheon of NBA greatness.”
-- Editors: Michael Sillup, Jay Beberman
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