NEW YORK –
Ibought a ticket to a Knicks game to watch some basketball.
At least, that’s what I thought at the time.
OK, maybe I did want to see that weird-looking ceiling at Madison Square Garden (it’s pretty cool, by the way), but I was mostly interested in the 48 minutes of hardwood action.
Ironically, I found myself paying even more attention to the non-basketball aspects of Friday night’s New York-Indiana contest.
Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the venue was so different – and more intimate – than the familiar confines of the Palace of Auburn Hills. No flame-filled pre-game introductions here. No championship-caliber play either, for that matter.
Alas, the Knicks are cellar-dwellers, a team with a record (22-54) among the NBA’s worst. If it wasn’t for the squad’s recent hot streak (meaning consecutive wins), New York could easily be sitting dead last in the league standings. So it’s understandable if team executives feel the need to compensate for poor on-court results with more diversionary entertainment.
Whatever the reason, there’s something for everyone at a Knicks game. Where else could you see Ron Raines, of “Guiding Light” fame, belt out an overdone, vibrato-filled, fist-pump-accentuated national anthem? I must admit, I’d never heard of Raines – I’m not much of a soap opera guy – but plenty of fans seemed to appreciate the effort. (I’m not sure if that says something about Ron Raines or Knicks fans).
Want a particularly useless promotional giveaway, like my brand new Continental Airlines luggage tag? Go to a Knicks game.
Want to see kids, in overalls and blindingly colorful afro wigs, execute complicated choreography? Go to a Knicks game.
Want to see a first-rate dance team? Go to a Knicks game – the Knicks City Dancers put the Pistons’ Automotion to shame.
But that’s not all. You can check out Anointed S and the Knicks Breakers if beat-boxing and breakdancing is your thing (as it is, apparently, for the Knicks’ Channing Frye, Malik Rose and Quentin Richardson, the Pacers’ Eddie Gill, and even a couple assistant coaches, all of whom paid more attention to the hip-hop antics than to the strategies being discussed during a timeout in the fourth quarter of a close game). If you’re in more of a retro mood, watch the City Kids groove to New Kids on the Block’s “The Right Stuff.”
Want to hear what a really old-school buzzer sounds like? Go to a Knicks game.
Want to find out how a team makes a sales pitch to free agent Shawn Kemp and his multitude of illegitimate children? Go to a Knicks game – Ludacris’s “Pimpin’ All Over the World” got airtime during the pre-game shootaround.
Want to see a pro basketball player who looks more like a ball boy? Go to a Knicks game and keep an eye on Nate Robinson, if you can find him.
Want to see Fat Joe sitting courtside? Me, neither.
Even the ticket-package advertisements scattered throughout the arena concourses provide a laugh. A witty one reads: “Knicks fans know that (Eddy) Curry is a key ingredient.” So key, in fact, that he was worth giving up the potential top pick in this June’s draft, heart problems and all.
Another sign proclaims, “Knicks fans know what hustle can get you.” What, a trip to the lottery? A frustrated fan base? Somebody please fill me in.
And let’s not forget the crowd. It’s no secret that New Yorkers know their hoops. They’re pretty famous for being sarcastic, too. So when Knicks guard Steve Francis took an ill-advised shot on the home team’s first possession, I cracked a smile when the guy sitting next to me quipped, “Boy, that took the crowd out of it.”
Later on, when New York forward Qyntel Woods missed a 360-degree dunk attempt on a breakaway, he was showered with merciless boos.
Knicks fans are even hard on each other. When a woman was having trouble making a lay-up to win a trip to Toronto during a timeout, my friendly neighbor asked, “How about Cleveland?”
Evidently, the organization trusts the crowd enough to give it the responsibility of picking the dance team’s routine once a game. I’m convinced, of course, that the fans’ demands for Destiny Child’s “Temptation” over a more reserved number, had nothing to do with the dancers’ wild hip gyrations.
I must admit, the crowd was far from perfect. I saw people sitting in $240 seats fight over a free T-shirt. A more serious altercation broke out in the game’s closing minutes. A couple guys in the upper deck proudly waved a Russian flag, despite the fact that there wasn’t a single Russian player, coach or trainer on either team. And when former Wolverine Maurice Taylor literally tackled the Pacers’ Jermaine O’Neal and got whistled for a much-deserved foul, somebody in front of me couldn’t believe it.
Well, at least Knicks fans have character.
Oh, yeah, there was a game, too. Among the highlights were benchwarmer and international journeyman Ime Udoka’s Knicks debut and Michigan alum Jamal Crawford’s game-winning shot with half a second left to give New York a rare victory.
In the end, though, my Madison Square Garden experience was about a lot more than just basketball. The overwhelming entertainment barrage has even motivated me to raise profound and troubling questions over the past few days.
For example, where can I catch reruns of “Guiding Light”? Anyone?
Gabe Edelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.