It has been four years since the NCAA Tournament played any games in the metro area; the tourney was in East Rutherford, New Jersey, eleven times but hasn’t been back since 2007. This year, though, it’s all about the PATH train: The Prudential Center will host the East Regional Finals on March 25 and 27, which means the Sweet 16 and the Elite Eight are coming to Newark. It’s (obviously) the first tourney games in Brick City, and it’s quite the coup for Newark and charismatic mayor Cory Booker. We talked to Booker about the tournament, all the events coming up that weekend, and, of course. Carmelo.
It seems like you guys are making a whole major event out of the tournament, with a college fair and an open house and viewing parties. This would seem like quite the get for Newark.
It’s thrilling to have the NCAA here. We’re going to try to make Newark a place for college students and similar events like the tournament. We’ve got a global peace conference with the Dalai Lama coming up; it’s just an exciting time in Newark. That the NCAA is putting its faith in our city, the first new city they’ve picked in eight years, is fantastic.
The games are all already sold out. Do you have enough hotel rooms?
They’re filling up really quickly, but we’ll have enough. It’s a dynamic thing for our city, having all these people coming in from out of town to see what we’re doing. We’re rolling out the red carpet and making this a tournament city. Even on days we don’t have games, we have a lot of bars, restaurants, and the arena itself to be used to celebrate the tournament and really stir up the city.
Are you guys ramping up train service?
Well, we’re a transportation hub in and of itself, but once you get into Newark, we’re signing up more than 1,000 volunteers to help people get around. We have shuttle buses going to and fro to help people get wherever they need to go, whether it’s a bar or a museum.
Is the goal to get a Final Four someday?
Absolutely. A lot of people have terrible misconceptions about our city, and this is a way to show it off. If this goes as well as I think it will, that’s something that could certainly be in our future.
Will you go to all the games?
I don’t know about all of them, but I’ll be at a ton of events all weekend, and I’m a huge basketball fan, so hopefully I’ll have time to see as many of the games as I can.
Do you have a team you hope makes it?
I went to Stanford, so I’m a Pac-10 guy. I have a lot of hopes for Stanford, but I’m also a local Jersey boy. I’m hoping Seton Hall can get in. But that looks a little unlikely.
How good are you at filling out a bracket?
I won once! It was when I was at a law firm about five years ago. I honestly don’t remember who won that year, though. Man, I should too. But I wouldn’t follow my advice generally. I tend to make my picks not based on rankings, but who I like personally and emotionally.
Did you have any sway with Carmelo?
Believe you me, I tried.