It’s been 11 years since a New York-area team from one of the big four pro sports leagues won a title (the Giants won the Super Bowl in 2012), and more than a few Big Apple fans are convinced the omnipotent sports gods are working overtime to block their teams from postseason success.
But the picture has brightened this year, with all five of New York’s major hockey and basketball teams in the playoffs for the first time since 1994—when O.J. Simpson fled in the white Bronco and Forrest Gump hit theaters. That year, the New York Knicks reached the NBA Finals while the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup, beating the New Jersey Devils in an epic Eastern Conference Finals series along the way, to end a 54-year championship drought.
“It’s rare for New York’s spring sports teams to (sustain) long periods of success and be [consistent] championship contenders,” Stephen Loughman, sports curator at the New York State Museum, said in an interview. “New York City is the hardest place to win, [because] teams’ failures are under a bigger microscope than other cities.”
While none of the five New York-area teams are favored to win their respective league titles this year, according to major sportsbooks, their collective return to the postseason has not only put smiles on fans’ faces but will also line owners’ pockets.
For playoff-bound NHL and NBA teams, the extra stream of revenue impacts their bottom line more than playoff teams in other leagues. NHL playoff teams give the league 35% of gate receipts for each home playoff game while NBA playoff teams have to give a 25% cut of their receipts and get to keep the rest.
The stark difference from the NFL’s fully shared playoff revenue system allows NBA and NHL teams more room to take advantage financially in the postseason. The Knicks, for example, reeled in $15 million thanks to three sold-out home games during their first round series in 2021.
Madison Square Garden Sports Corp (NYSE: MSGS) executive chairman James Dolan, who owns the Knicks and Rangers, stands to benefit from having both his teams in the postseason for the first time since 2013. But MSG Network faces the challenge of keeping fans engaged even though they can catch the action on national telecasts. MSGS shareholders nonetheless can expect a noticeable bump when the fourth quarter revenue results come out this summer.
The Knicks, led by Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson, hope to edge the Cleveland Cavaliers and advance to the second round. They haven’t hoisted the championship trophy since 1973, but despite their troubles building a true contender, they have grown into one of the world’s most valuable teams. The Knicks are valued at $6.58 billion in Sportico’s latest NBA ranking, behind only the Golden State Warriors.
Meanwhile, the Rangers, valued at $2 billion in Sportico’s latest NHL valuations, fell just short of a Stanley Cup Finals berth last year but helped MSGS pocket $33 million during their best postseason run since 2015. They are back in the playoffs for a second straight season and will face the Devils starting on Tuesday in the first playoff matchup between the cross-river rivals since 2012.
The Devils, held by new Washington Commanders owner Josh Harris, are led by young star Jack Hughes, who set a single-season point record for the franchise last week. “Fans were chanting fire [Devils’ coach Lindy Ruff] after their 0-2 start at the beginning of the year,” former Rangers and Devils center Brian Boyle said in an interview. “Then look what happened. It’s been a record year for the franchise. You got to give that staff and the players a lot of credit.”
Across the way in Brooklyn, the Nets have been one of the most intriguing franchises in the league this season, thanks to off-the-court dealings topped by the departure of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. But the front-office drama hasn’t stopped Joe Tsai’s club from reaching the postseason for a fifth straight year. The Nets, who were last valued at $3.8 billion in Sportico’s NBA valuations, have found new leaders in Mikal Bridges and Cam Thomas.
Finally, the Islanders, who missed the playoffs last year, snagged a wild card spot last week even though they were without star center Mathew Barzal and will travel to face the Carolina Hurricanes starting on Monday night. The Islanders, valued at $920 million, will host their first ever playoff games at UBS Arena, which opened in 2021.
These five teams reaching the postseason is part of a resurrection of sorts for New York sports teams as of late. Even if few noticed, New York City FC is less than two years removed from its MLS Cup title. Aaron Judge and the New York Yankees captivated fans on their way to the AL Championship Series last year while Steve Cohen is spending big bucks to make the New York Mets whole again. The New York Giants made the playoffs for the first time since 2016 last season while the New York Jets seem to be on the brink of snagging Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers for his twilight years.
The last time all five New York-area NBA and NHL teams made the postseason, confetti rained across lower Manhattan when the Rangers won it all. Which team will it be this year?