Though the Knicks are no longer a championship caliber team, it is always entertaining to look back on the time when they were. Michael Rapaport has taken on the task of creating a movie that depicts the Knicks glory days. The movie is entitled When the Garden Was Eden. Rapaport’s film was shown at the Tribeca Film Festival as a part of ESPN-centric sidebar. The die-hard Knick fan was inspired to do this film to pay tribute to the Knicks, and give thanks to his parents. He says they always believed in his hoop dreams, even though he was very slow and could not jump over a deck of cards.
This film chronicles the only Knicks team to bring the city their two championships. That team consists of many key players that went on to become Hall of Famers. Phil Jackson happened to be one of those noteworthy players. How monumental is it that he came back to New York where it all started? That full circle moment brings a bit of nostalgia for the Knick franchise and fans. Yes, it is nice to remember, but it is also hard to forget the fact that the glory days of the 1970’s are over.
When the Garden Was Eden opens in current time with the press conference announcing Phil Jackson taking over the Knicks. Then it transports the viewer back in time all the way to the mid 1960’s. The film starts to focus on a shabby Knicks team with the similar woes of the current team. This was a group of guys that were struggling to find a team identity. It did not help that they had very little support. Rapaport highlights there were times when the Knicks did not have fans with team allegiance like they do now. They were lucky to have a couple thousand people show up, and out of those thousand most of them were gamblers. It took time before the city got behind this franchise.
This sports classic covered a unique group of ballers that possessed a degree of confidence and charisma despite their difficulties. Point guard Walt Frazier was the flashy flamboyant type on an off the court. He liked to stand out for his game and his threads. Phil Jackson was the ultimate professional. Jackson had such a high basketball IQ he came off like the coach even as a player. Willis Reed was the aggressive hard-nosed from Grambling State University that took no prisoners in the paint. Also there was Dick Barnett the in your face two guard also known as Skull. Bill Bradley was the very intelligent bookworm whose knowledge superseded the game of basketball. Then mid-70’s Earl “The Pearl” Monroe joined the team adding his flashy dribbling and handles. That earned him the nick name Black Jesus. Jerry Lucas who was the multi talented forward that got it done on both sides of the court followed Monroe in 1973. Finally the guy who kept these men in line was the great motivator William “Red” Holzman.
Now with the supporting cast in line this documentary plays out like an ESPN Hardwood Classic. It focuses on old game footage with narration, and interviews with the champion Knicks of the 70’s. There many unforgettable moments contained in this Doc that reminds viewers of the Knicks heart and tenacity. At one point, Frazier is seen giving a breakdown on how he caught fire in the 1970 finals. He said Red wanted him to find the open man, and after while he was the open man. Rapaport captured another memorable moment at the garden. This was the moment Willis Reed the Kicks captain returned in Game 7 of the finals after tearing a muscle in his thigh game 5. Outside of the champion spirit of the Knicks often portrayed in the documentary, there was a lighter undertone. There was footage of the big brawl that took place between Reed and the Lakers. Plus, they spoke about life on the road and the entertaining moments they shared together.
Overall, When the Garden Was Eden opens everyone’s eyes to the way of the world according to the Knicks. For once fans get to see the game through the eyes of these well deserving champions. Everything was not perfect, they did not always win, but they played as one unit with one mission. The passion they had for the game and each other were greatly displayed in this film. Rapaport’s successfully captured the legacy of the champion Knicks. He did so in such a way that it could be inspirational for the current Knicks and future Knicks to come.
Commentary by Schelett Rickenbacker