“When The Garden Was Eden” Opens Tribeca Film Festival 2014

 By Phil Johnson

New York is a sports town.  In every season of every year, folks pack the parks and the stadiums and the rinks and the arenas to cheer (mostly) for their local teams.

Michael Rapaport, director, When The Garden Was Eden.  Photo credit: Getty Images.

Michael Rapaport, director, When The Garden Was Eden. Photo credit: Getty Images.


But never did the city hop quite as much as in the late 1960’s – early 1970’s. It was a great time to be a New York sports fan.

First there were the Jets with brash young quarterback Joe Willie Namath upsetting Baltimore to win the Super Bowl in 1968. The “can’t anyone here play this game” Mets came from nowhere to win the World Series in 1969.

Then there were the Knicks – Oh! Those Knicks – a blend of talent, teamwork, drama, and a colorful cast of characters that won the championship of Pro Basketball in 1970 and 1973.

Now comes the great documentary film When the Garden was Eden, an unabashed love note from actor/director Michael Rapaport about the glory days of his hometown New York Knickerbockers and their championship seasons.

Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival

The film premieres April 16, opening the festival as part of this year’s Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival and is part of the network’s 30 for 30 documentary series and runs during Tribeca Film Festival, taking place April 16-27 in New York City.

When The Garden Was Eden offers a plateful of game action, behind the scenes looks, and conversations that recount those days and the people who made the Knicks special.

There is probably no more dramatic moment in the annals of pro basketball than when, after missing Game 6 with an injury, Willis Reed limps onto the court, just before tipoff for the final game of the championship series. He scores the first two baskets of the game and inspires the Knicks to their first NBA title since the league was founded in 1949.

The Rest of The Cast

In addition to team captain Reed, there is Walt “Clyde” Frazer whose style on and off the court made him a fan favorite;

A young Phil Jackson cools off in the New York Knicks locker room circa 1973.  From the Lens of George Kalinsky. © George Kalinsky.

A young Phil Jackson cools off in the New York Knicks locker room circa 1973. From the Lens of George Kalinsky. © George Kalinsky.

Dave DeBusschere who added a toughness to the team after being traded from Detroit; Dick Barnett with the leg-bending jump shot that every playground kid tried to copy; shaggy haired, coat hanger- shouldered Phil Jackson; and old college rivals “Dollar” Bill Bradley and Cazzie Russell, now teammates with the Knicks.

Under Coach Red Holzman

They were all great talents individually. But their skills were blended under the direction of coach Red Holzman. He harnessed their power and drive and brought a championship to a city where champions are celebrated from the neighborhood playgrounds to center court at Madison Square Garden.

May 10, 1973: New York Knicks Jerry Lucas, Walt "Clyde" Frazier, Willis Reed, Phil Jackson, and Bill Bradley celebrate after defeating the Knicks in Game 5 to win the NBA Championship at the LA Forum in Los Angeles, California.

From left to right: Jerry Lucas, Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Phil Jackson & Bill Bradley celebrate after winning the 1973 NBA Title in five games against the Los Angeles Lakers. Photo credit: From the Lens of George Kalinsky. © George Kalinsky.

Now it is 1973. Cazzie Russell is gone but part of the team now are Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, the high dribbling showman who had been traded from Baltimore, and smooth frontcourt man Jerry Lucas who had distinctive recall skills like the ability to memorize all the numbers in a phone book. Henry Bibby and New York City playground legend Dean “The Dream” Meminger were now regulars too.

Winning was no longer a surprise. It was now an expectation. The Knicks beat the Celtics in Boston in the conference championship, then beat the Lakers in the finals to win their second title in four years.

But what timing for this great documentary film! Phil Jackson has just returned to New York as President of the Knickerbockers after coaching the Chicago Bulls and then the Los Angeles Lakers to multiple NBA championships.

New Yorkers are hoping there will be a sequel soon: When The Garden Was Eden II.

* Additional information and further details on the Festival can be found at http://www.tribecafilm.com.

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