Why Are Some Sports Stadiums Called ‘Gardens’?

Performers and athletes know they’re at the top of their professions when they appear at Madison Square Garden. The New York Knicks have the pleasure of calling this sports stadium home. But wait. Why is this massive, closed arena called a garden of all things?

Why does this name pop up so often for places that aren’t gardens at all? The answer is multifaceted, but at its core, it’s about the ancient language at the root of our own.

Why sports stadiums have “garden” in their names

Even for those confused by the loose use of “garden,” it’s clear the name conjures some level of prestige. This is certainly part of why arenas, restaurants, even run-of-the-mill beer gardens love to stick to the term.

It ultimately stems from the Latin word “geard,” reports Word Sense. This word means, broadly, “open space.” It lends itself to two keywords in English: “garden” and “yard.” So calling a huge arena with a high ceiling a “garden” makes sense in this classical use of the term.

There’s another wrinkle. In British English, “garden” historically lacks the plant-based connotations it has in the U.S. It’s regularly used to simply refer to a large enclosed space. This British-style naming convention carried over to the Americas, explaining why many older institutions use the term in this old-fashioned way.

Madison Square Garden: the fourth iteration of a NYC institution

Madison Square Garden, or MSG, as we know it today is actually the fourth major version of a series of theaters and arenas dating back to 1879, according to the New York Times.

The original version was a larger scale replacement for a string of theaters in what was then Madison Square Park. The infamous P.T. Barnum leased the building for a time, but it was abandoned due to the lack of a roof. Harsh New York winters made it unusable for too much of the year.

The second MSG went even bigger. The 1890 Stanford White design was then the second tallest building in New York, according to the blog Daytonian in Manhattan. It was expensive to maintain, leading to another closure in 1925.

The third MSG had a then-massive 18,496 capacity. Rather than the air of prestige that led to the previous iteration losing money, this one went right for a crowd-pleaser: boxing.

Finally, the modern MSG at Pennsylvania Station came to be in 1968. The capacity maxes out at around 20,000 people, depending on the type of event. It is arguably the most iconic arena in the world today.

How MSG came to be synonymous with the Knicks

NBA game between New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks at Madison Square Garden in New York
New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden | Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A big part of MSG’s prestige comes from its ability to successfully host so many types of events. Not all arenas can handle the acoustics of plays, rock bands, and comedians just as well as raucous sporting events.

But no part of MSG’s history is quite as beloved by New Yorkers as the New York Knicks. Upon the 1968 opening, the Knicks were an early customer. The growth of the franchise, and indeed the NBA itself under the late David Stern’s sure hand, happened just a few years later.

The Knicks won the 1970 NBA Championship at MSG. In 1994, John Starks dunked on Horace Grant and Michael Jordan, a moment Knicks fans will never forget. The same year, Patrick Ewing tipped in the final points that sent the Knicks to the NBA finals, causing MSG to explode.

For a fanbase suffering under widely panned leadership, these moments matter. The current era isn’t enough to erase a simple fact: MSG is the mecca of the NBA, and it’s thanks to the storied history of the Knicks.

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