For younger basketball fans accustomed to the Knicks, for want of a better word, sucking, it can be hard to remember that during the 1990s, they were one of the great NBA teams. For 10 years they make the playoffs each season and made it to the NBA Finals twice. Had they not coincided with the Jordan era Bulls, it’s highly likely they would have achieved even more.
Blood in the Garden tells the story of the Knicks from the arrival of former Lakers coach Pat Riley in 1991 to the departure of coach Jeff Van Gundy in 2001. Herring brings the central cast of players, coaches, and executives to life in vivid detail but also builds the wider picture of a club, an organization and a wider league.
Condensing 10 years of playoff seasons into a book that is also packed with anecodtes and vivid profiles, Herring zooms in on particular events and games that reflect the the essence of the 90’s Knicks. It was a team built around Patrick Ewing and a philosophy of playing hard, letting the other teams know they were in a contest. The book strikes a perfect balance of insight, anecdote, game action, and narrative. It’s strength is its focus on relationships, on the dynamics between various characters and how those men and those dynamics shaped the team’s performance.
Blood in the Garden is an excellent book due to both the quality of writing and the immense depth of research undertaken. But what fascinates me most is that the book is ultimately about a team that didn’t win a Championship. There are great books about various NBA championship winning teams and dynasties, and books about great players (whether they ultimately won a title or not), but we rarely get great books about teams that ultimately don’t get that moment of glory. Herring has shown that a well told, well researched and well crafted story of sport at the highest level can be just as (or more!) compelling without that final moment of ever lasting glory.
If you like this book, also check out: Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s by Jeff Pearlman or When the Garden Was Eden: Clyde, the Captain, Dollar Bill, and the Glory Days of the New York Knicks by Harvey Araton.