I boarded the plane from Toronto to New York with the hopes that my first trip to the famed Madison Square Gardens would be all that I had hoped.
Taking my seat on the tiny 50 seat express plane to NYC, I realized that I had forgotten what the 'Big Apple' was all about; I hadn’t been there since I was a kid. I tried to recall the sights and sounds of the city and found it had all been lost to me, so I decided I was going to go into this trip with an open mind and experience everything as if it was my first time seeing the place.
I took out my book—Big Game, Small World by Alexander Wolff—and began to absorb all those global sports adventures. I wanted all those stories, and as a history buff the idea of sitting in MSG was haunting. I’d wanted to go for, whether it was for a ball game, hockey game, even a concert; anything to see the famous digs.
I could not have been luckier. My introduction to MSC was a Knicks game, versus the Celtics at that! It was a matchup with such historical potency it actually had me salivating. The opportunity was too good to pass up.
When I arrived the sights, sounds, and smells of New York hit me like an Eddie Curry pick. There was too much to do, too many places to see. Because it was just late afternoon I decided to venture off to the classic tourist areas. I was staying in midtown at an upscale hotel (courtesy of some connections) and asked the concierge where I could find the NBA store. I had only heard about the delights that awaited me.
I walked down the streets of Manhattan, bundled up, neck hurting from the turning to see everything that I could. Feeling as though I was floating midair, I passed famed clothing outlets only wishing that each store I passed would bring me to the NBA store.
And there it was. Wooden handles with carved 'NBA'. I felt a strange sense of relief. Deep breath and...open. Flashes of green and white hit me first (Celtics gear smattered all over the front of the store). Then black, red, orange, teal, and white. The colors of the rainbow put to basketball logos. I felt like a kid in a candy store, running down the ramp, arms flailing in the air, spurting out bursts of childish laughter as I rummaged through the jerseys, t-shirts, throwback gear and warm-up shirts that I could find nowhere else.
I gathered all I could (essentially all I could afford, which was not much). Seeing the bill that I’d racked up I wanted to cry. But knowing it was for a good cause (my love of ball) I walked out with a big smile on my face. I went to bed that night in my new shorts. It was perfect.
The next morning, I woke up ready to spend the day sightseeing. Then I had to pick up my tickets at will-call. Because I didn’t yet have my tickets I had no verification of game time so I checked the morning paper at 11:00 AM…it said game time was 1:00 PM. I nearly lost it.
Surrounded by business folk in the hotel breakfast lounge I began shouting obscenities at the thought of almost missing the game, the worst of my nightmares. I walked quickly to the elevators, wanting to get to my room, when a familiar face passed by. Flannel shirt, vest over top, big headphones around his neck and a goofy smirk on his face.
'Tsup', he murmured to me. I looked back. It was Dave Chappelle, one of my favorite comedians. I was reassured, it was going to be a good day.
It was Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the streets were packed. This was my first time at the legendary gardens and I had no idea what to expect. The chaos of getting into the arena was more exciting than anything I’d ever experienced. Packing thousands of fans into one entrance was logistically insane, but it added to the pre-game hype.
I picked up my tickets and sat in my seat about 30 rows up. I could see everything pretty clearly. The insane, chaotic, and ultimately maddening feeling of entering the arena was equally matched by the depressing, quiet, and eerily calm demeanor of the fans inside the Gardens. I guess that's what happens when your team stinks.
The Celtics pretty much toyed with the Knicks the entire game. Smatters of 'Fire-Isiah' and 'Go Celtics' chanting were the only sounds heard around the arena. The atmosphere that I experienced in the Garden seemed like an illusion, as if everyone was against me, not wanting me to fully experience the true MSG crowd.
I was disillusioned, disappointed, and completely fallen to despair. At 25, my first trip to the historical sports paradise was not what I had hoped. However, I did come to one life-changing decision. I would come back to MSG every year, for one game, to try and better my luck.
I love this game too much to let this one experience ruin my nostalgic ideals of what MSG means to basketball and to sports in general. I know I will one day rejoice in the cheers, jeers, and echoes of Knicks fans past and present.