Sports fans know Madison Square Garden as the home of the New York Knicks, Rangers, and Liberty. But they might not know that MSG (and the teams that play in the arena) has a charitable organization associated with it, too.
The Garden of Dreams foundation is an organization that uses pro sports and MSG’s teams to provide once-in-a-lifetime experiences to underprivileged families and children. It launched in 2006 and today boasts 500 annual events, including last week’s Dream Week. The annual event gives kids a week’s worth of activities associated with the various parts of Madison Square Garden Company.
“It’s probably our favorite week of the year,” said Kristine Burton, an overseer of the Garden of Dreams Foundation. “[It’s] just about giving kids experiences they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”
This year, 40 kids ages 10-12 years old from the Harlem Police Athletic League – one of the Garden of Dreams’ 22 partner organizations – were involved in Dream Week. The group engaged in a plethora of activities, including a visit to the New York Giants’ training camp.
On Wednesday, the kids took a bus to the Madison Square Garden training center in Tarrytown, New York, for a morning filled with basketball. The day also featured many surprises. The first was when the kids learned their helpers for the morning were Knicks’ legends John Starks and Larry Johnson and Knicks’ 2014 first-round draft pick Cleanthony Early.
“We just want to try and inspire young people and help families,” Starks said.
The morning began with a tour of the practice facility. The kids got an up-close look at the Knicks’ theatre-like classroom, lounge area, weight room, and more. Groups led by Starks and Johnson also stopped by the Knicks’ locker room, and that’s where they found surprise number two: Hanging neatly in the lockers of active Knicks players were 40 customized Knicks jerseys for each kid.
“It’s super important because it’s all relative,” Johnson said on giving back to the kids. “These are our youngsters. You never know what’s going to come out of this. [One kid] may become the next senator, the next President, the next general manager, the next CEO. So you want to instill in them that you can be anything you want to be.”
The kids then were led back to the courts — new jerseys and all — and the group sat on the hardwood for surprise number three: Early, Johnson, and Starks presented the kids with 40 pairs of brand new Jordan sneakers. The reactions were priceless, with the children shouting and jumping.
“Back up! Back up!” the PA announcer said, trying to restrain the ecstatic kids.
“It was really cool [seeing their reactions],” Starks said, grinning. “You really forget about that. Seeing the excitement on their faces when we showed them the shoes made it all worthwhile.”
The kids were then ready for the real action of the day. Split in four stations, they exercised, practiced dribbling, took free-throw shots, and even participated in one-on-one drills. The latter featured Early showing off his rookie promise with a series of step-back jumpers and dunks — all against the overmatched pre-teens.
“He dunked on me!” one unlucky kid said with a laugh.
Early’s exuberance served as an appropriate ending to the morning, even if it was just the beginning of the day for the kids. The rest of the afternoon would be spent learning how to ice skate on the Rangers’ side of the training center.
The week continued with a tennis clinic in Harlem on Thursday and a barbeque and presentation on Friday, where every kid went home with an award.
In the end, Dream Week was all about giving kids an experience they’ll never forget — one that will inspire them forever.
Photos: Avi Gerver/MSG Photos