After I pestered the gentlemen at Howard the Dunk into answering a few Magic-related queries this afternoon, tonight's hoops action at the Garden has been cancelled due to some asbestos-related concerns.
Apparently, overnight renovations in the attic above the ceiling at Madison Square Garden caused some debris to fall to the floor. Said debris may or may not contain asbestos and almost assuredly contain "cleaning asbestos-related materials." Rather than run the risk of exposing a Van Gundy brother to a known carcinogen the Knicks, acting "out of an abundance of caution," opted to postpone the game indefinitely.
The part of me that has cringed whenever the forthcoming Garden renovations come up is somewhat relieved by today's action. Maybe the building does need some work. As a kid growing up in the mid-to-late 1980s in the suburbs, my elementary school and then my middle school were closed for extensive renovations the year after I'd moved on to the next school. It took them a few years after I left high school before the upgraded the facilities, but in each case I missed out on the high-tech labs, the ergonomic desks, and the better sports facilities. The one thing I never missed out on was asbestos. Which seemed to be cited as a reason for each renovation as best I can remember.
A naturally occurring mineral, asbestos has been mined and used be men going back to Ancient Greece. The Greeks, in fact, gave the material it's name, which means "unquenchable" or "inextinguishable" according to Wikipedia. Pretty badass. Clustering into long fibrous crystals, asbestos is extremely resistant to heat, electrical and chemical damage. Which is why it was used in everything from building materials and brake pads to oven mitts and movie theater curtains. It was mixed into cement a key component of home insulation and was widely used in shipbuilding because everyone thought this stuff was going to keep you safe in case of a fire. And, truth be told, it probably saved hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of lives. While also slowly giving innumerable people lung cancer.
Going back as far as Pliny the Elder, a Roman naturalist and naval commander who lived from AD 23 to 79 (if you do a Google image search for this guy an image of Bo Jackson on the cover of Beckett price guide comes up), it was suspected that breathing asbestos did some damage. But that just meant that slaves and poor folk did the mining. Because the upper class loved this stuff. It was damn near magical. Charlemagne had a table cloth made of asbestos and so did several Very Important Persians, who impressed dinner guests by setting the material aflame. The heat resistant cloth would not burn yet any leftover crumbs or wine stains would be incinerated. When Marco Polo traveled to China he was similarly amazed by garments that could withstand fire. That ancient Chinese secret? It wasn't Calgon. It was asbestos underpants.
More recently, serious investigations into the health risks of asbestos exposure were already underway in the late 1920s in England. Stateside, corporations that used and produced asbestos were embroiled in Big Tobacco-style cover-ups from the 1930s through the late 1980s. Which was probably when all the schools of my youth were scheduling their own renovations. But I digress, doctors around the world had long agreed that inhalation of asbestos crystals caused lung cancer and mesothelioma and they'd also realized that those fibrous crystals could become embedded in one's skin causing all sorts of lesions and callous-like growths. Gross. It wasn't until 1989 that the Environmental Protection Agency actually outlawed the stuff and asked, pretty please, if we'd try to remove it from older buildings.
And, in November 2010, asbestos rained down from the ceiling at the World's Most Famous Arena and canceled a professional basketball game.