What he couldn’t say in that news story was that for almost 40 years, Michelle Musler had also been his friend, mentor and well-placed Knicks source, feeding him juicy tips gleaned from her proximity to the bench.
Araton’s new book, “Our Last Season: A Writer, a Fan, a Friendship,” is a deeply moving memoir about their extraordinary friendship, as well as a look back at an earlier era of sports journalism and fandom, when evening newspapers thrived and ordinary folk — not just the 1 percenters — could afford courtside seats. It also features vivid cameos of legendary Knicks from Walt Frazier to Pat Riley and Patrick Ewing.
Musler, 16 years older than Araton, was a working-class tomboy from Hartford, Connecticut, whose dream of being a sports journalist came a little too early. “Your job is my fantasy job,” she once told him. “I lived vicariously through you because I wanted to be you.” Instead, she got married and, when her husband walked out on her, raised five kids on her own while blazing a high-flying corporate career.
Araton was blue collar, too, from the projects of Staten Island, landing at the elite Times only after stints at the Staten Island Advance, New York Post and Daily News. The son of a city postal worker, he harbored a lifelong sympathy for the underdog, save for a brief moment when he crossed a picket line at the News, one of many richly reported details in the book.
“A wave of nausea engulfed me,” he wrote about seeing his byline on the newsstand. “I… walked across the street and vomited into a trash basket (then) went back on strike, grateful, at least, that my father hadn’t lived to see his son become a scab.”
As they got older, and Araton suffered setbacks in his health and career, Musler was always the voice of reason. When the Knicks lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Houston Rockets in Game 7 of the 1994 NBA finals, he was surprised to see that she wasn’t upset.
But as far as she was concerned, the Knicks had “shown up,” and that was all any reasonable fan could expect. It was just one of many wise lessons she taught him, now preserved for posterity in this wonderful book.