Robert Goes to the Game
“And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.”
It’s always a solid idea to invoke the eternal in situations like these. Granted, the Columbia School of Journalism would frown on such a thing. Not your classic pyramidal lede, after all. But I used the King James version in honor of last night’s opponent. Yours truly, by dint of luck, got to attend this titanic affair in person (some of you may have already read my in-game tweets). Just as the good Dr. Thompson would have were he still with us, I brought a pad and paper (no smart-phone for Altacockers like me — heck, I came this close to wearing a fedora and bringing a Smith-Corona with me) and took copious notes. Here, Gonzo-style, is my mostly unedited, minute-by-minute experience of/commentary on said contest…
5:20 – Walking up 7th Avenue. Looking for that “Knicks buzz” that we haven’t seen round these parts since Bubba Clinton was lord and master of all he surveyed. It’s sorta there. Scalpers milling about at five-ish is a good sign. So is cops half-heartedly trying to bust said scalpers. For a second I ponder hocking my ticket and “covering” this event from Rudy’s Bar and Grill down the block (free hot dogs!). But considering I’m a respected member of the mainstream media, I quickly ditch this idea.
5:25 – I finish my last cigarette and enter MSG. Turns out, Gerry Cosby Sporting Goods is no longer in existence. I die a little inside. Back in the day, going to the game with my father, a key part of our pre-game ritual involved a pit stop at Gerry Cosby to stare in wonderment at the game-used jerseys and (utterly out of our price range) threads for sale. I blame Ebay/Craigslist for its demise. [Ed's note: Cosby's is still alive, 31st street East of 7th.]
5:26 – I wander over to the concierge desk and get my ticket. Clyde Frazier saunters (and I mean saunters) by. He’s rocking a turquoise suit, shirt and shoes. Sweet.
5:35 – So this shindig’s been set up by American Express. Upon entering, I’m approached by a middle management-type who gives me a free hat (not to mention, you know, the tickets) so I smile politely and make a beeline for the hors-d’oeuvres.
5:36 – I was hoping for some good cheese at the buffet table, but alas, there’s just reheated pigs-in-a-blanket and some chicken teriyaki thingies. I eat them anyway. I mean, they’re there so I’ll eat but I was kinda hoping for fancy cheese m’self.
5:38 – There’s Clyde Frazier and Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. I’m giddy as a schoolgirl. Seriously, just in awe. I walk over, attempting to be casual, as if chilling with all-time NBA greats is a daily occurrence for your humble correspondent. (I assume I fail. Casual anything isn’t my strong suit). They’re talking about Rondo and how they’d defend his lack of a shot. Clyde, in his ineffable greatness says, “I’d insult him. I’d stand five feet away with my hands at my side and dare him to shoot. One miss, and he’d be mine for the rest of the game.” (I so want to be as cool as Walt Frazier in my next life). You may have seen some of the choice quotes from Clyde n’ Pearl at the mini-”press conference” that I tweeted (http://twitter.com/KnickerBlogger). But prior to this, we just hung out and talked hoops. I’m just about ready to die happily now. A few snippets of our chit-chat below…
PEARL: Dick Barnett used to bring his man close to me so he’d lay off Dick and double me. That was his way of letting me know it was time to give him the ball.
CLYDE: The Knicks haven’t executed a last-second play well since Red was the coach.
(I then asked Clyde, “Is that the players’ fault? Or the coach’s/poor play design?)
CLYDE: It’s both. They don’t practice it enough. In that situation, you’re so exhausted it has to be instinctive. You have to rely on muscle memory.
(Side note — I often carp on Clyde’s malapropisms/misused vocab when he’s calling a game. Hearing him “just talk” he’s clearly a very bright, articulate guy. It make me kinda wish he’d ditch the rhyming shtick — he clearly doesn’t need it.)
PEARL: I almost came out of retirement to play for the expansion Dallas Mavericks in ’81. They really tried to sell me. Offered me a house in Dallas and a front office job when I retired. Almost said yes, but I really couldn’t play any more and I didn’t want the fans to remember me struggling.
CLYDE: (Comparing LBJ/Wade to himself and Monroe) Someone has to adapt and change their game. A team always knows who the alpha dog is. You fight it, and everyone gets messed up. Pearl changed to fit with me and we were able to flourish.
6:10 – I’m positively floating after getting to talk roundball with two of my heroes. In my stupor, I eat my eighth pig-in-a-blanket. The waiters are eyeballing me warily.
6:15 – The aforementioned mini-press conference. I listen for a bit. When the questions devolve into, “What was your favorite moment as a Knick,” I figure this is my chance to grab a last smoke before the game begins. Alas, I’m not allowed to leave. For serious. There’s an electronic chip on the ticket that once scanned, can’t be re-scanned or something and so if I go, I’m out for good. I begin to mumble something about hyper-technology dehumanizing us all and go back to the event, smoke-free.
6:30 – John Starks enters.
6:31 – John Starks exits.
6:32 – Wait, was that John Starks? Is he coming back? I wanna meet John Starks and do the three-fingers-to-the-heart gesture!! I go to ask the AMEX guy, but he’s hitting on the bartender. Poop.
6:35 – The pre-game event is over and we’re supposed to head up to the luxury suite, but I break away from the pack to take in the ambiance and go over my notes (this will be important later). Charles Smith walks by. He seems to not have aged at all since 1993. Ironic, since his series of bricks at the end of Game Five v. the Bulls clearly took ten years off my life and added three or four permanent furrows to my brow. [Ed's note: That moment is what turned me from a boy into a man. It stole any childhood happiness from my soul.]
6:55 – I make my way up to the suite. I’ve never seen this part of MSG before. Honestly, it looks like the hallway of a Days Inn somewhere. Middle-aged, red-faced, clearly wealthy guys in suits, reeking of axe body wash are dragging their half-bored fraying trophy wives behind them. Again, just totally out of my element. The Garden for me will always be dingy fluorescent hallways that reek of deep-fried food and/or urine. It’s like the Great Recession never happened for these people. I can guarantee you that none of them ever considered lining their pockets with Ziploc bags to scarf buffet-table leftovers (I’ll let y’all decide if that’s a good or a bad thing).
7:00 – I enter the suite. We’re above the blue seats. To my surprise, being this high up allows for a much better view of the game than what one would find in the 200′s. There’s clearly a mathematical reason for this, but look! More buffet food. Sliders and dumplings and wings! Awesome. Excuse me please…
7:03 – Again, I try to suss out the vibe of MSG. Being this far away from the huddled, unwashed masses makes it a wee bit difficult, but there’s a genuine nervous energy about the place. Folks are ready to bust out with joy and/or hate.
7:08 – Pre-game hoopla. It’s a remnant of the Isiah regime. So much hurly-burly. T-shirt cannons. Random hype guys trying to get the crowd juiced. Hate it. I understand when the Knicks were a pitiable lot, some corporate bigwigs might have thought all this sound and fury was necessary to, you know, distract the populace from the abhorrent product on the court. But now that there’s a good (or at least usually entertaining) team, it’s just not necessary. I’m reminded, oddly enough, of a scene from that awful remake of Rollerball.
7:12 – Oh, right. The game. LeBron, etc. That’s why we’re here.
7:20 – Between sending Mike K. my tweets, taking notes and snacking like a fiend, I realize that I’m only semi-paying attention to what’s occurring on the court. I’m more impressed than ever by Bill Simmons’ running game diaries/”Cover it live” scribblings (to which this little ditty owes more than a passing resemblance). It’s really hard to write about and watch the game and be vaguely witty and/or insightful all at the same time.
7:25 – I ravage the buffet/beverage table like Amar’e going to the rim on the pick and roll. I’m on my twelfth piggie-blankety treat and loading up with Buffalo wings. So now I’ve got a hot sauce slathered face (bleu cheese dressing is for wimps) and I’m intermittently bellowing things like, “That was a foul!” and, “Stop throwing up early three’s Raymond/Will/Landry! Move the @#$%^& ball!!” My fellow box residents are starting to give me the stink-eye. None of them seem nearly as emotionally invested in the outcome of the match as I am.
7:35 – 1st Quarter ends. Nix down nine. I’m trying to figure out what cost our lads the lead. Felton/Amar’e seem too eager to play well. Doubling LeBron is allowing Bosh and Carlos effing Arroyo to nail easy open shots. While marveling at my brilliant analysis, I suddenly realize that I’ve been in the wrong luxury suite the whole time. I’m surprised no one asked who I was what I was doing there or something, but as I said, these folks didn’t seem to care too much that they were there, so my presence wasn’t likely to make that much of an impression.
7:38 – I make my way to the AMEX box. This is more like it. I’m suddenly surrounded by some seriously jacked fans, wearing Amar’e jerseys and drinking heavily. (The fact that this suite [unlike my first one] contained a fully stocked bar probably helped. I take a moment to curse the fact that I’m an alcoholic and move on). Much theorizing about why they’re down. Someone says, “D’Antoni sucks!” Cogent analysis or not, these are my people. The AMEX guy asks, “Where have you been?” I mutter something about being in the wrong suite and he laughs stiffly and whacks me on the back saying, “You rock, dude!” He’s like the fraternity brother I never had.
7:52 – Oo! A Padma Lakshmi sighting in celebrity row! She’s like, really pretty and like, this season of Top Chef looks like totally promising if…Wait. Wrong pointless obsession. Sorry ’bout that. [Ed's note: I thought I was the only one? Which chef do you think has the best game? The easy answer is Anthony Bourdain, but I'd put my money on the darkhorse chef/cager, Eric Ripert. There are plenty of ballers in France... I see what you mean by pointless obsession.]
7:59 – The Knickerbockers start to claw their way back in the game, capped by Willll-son CHAND-La!’s thunderous dunk on the break. The suite’s rocking and the one attractive woman in the room starts to dance seductively to whatever classic rock tune they’re playing during the time out. Suddenly every male with an operant limbic system shifts their curdling blood-rage into an indefinable lust for this supple yet lithe, gyrating female. Her ostensible boyfriend, heretofore the most vociferous chap in the joint, gets quiet and protective.
8:10 – Halftime. Tied. I’m seriously jonesing for a smoke, but the food-coma I’m entering is counteracting the effects nicely. Everyone in the suite is super-sure that the Nix will win this one. I’m not convinced. It’s not the ten years of losing, mind you. My Nix, even when they were a “contender” always seemed to botch games like this’n. I wonder how these doe-eyed optimists are going to react when the soul-crushing defeats inevitably arrive. Will they be thrilled just to have “meaningful games?” Will they revel in “moral victories?” Or will they be even more distraught?
8:30 – My notes say in all-caps & repeatedly underlined, “3 MISSED FREE THROWS BY STAT. THAT’S THE GAME. IT’S OVER.” Again, I’ve seen too many of these affairs. It’s not because I have any great b-ball insight, mind you, it’s all a matter of repetition. I’ve seen this show before. Just like I know how Hamlet’s going to end when I watch that bit o’ drama play out.
8:54 – And just like that, down 16 at the end of the third. John Kenney’s got a much more thorough recap but in short, LeBron went into full-on killer mode.
9:02 – The fans in the pricey seats start leaving in droves and the energy in the arena deflates quicker than the Metrodome.
9:12 – The AMEX guy asks if I’m sticking around for the post-game interviews. Of course, I say. He seems edgy and queries what I plan on asking Gallo/Stat/Turiaf (Who evidently are going to hang around to chill with us uber-fans after getting grilled by the beat reporters. I’m impressed. After this game, I’d be high-tailing it out of there.) I reassure him I won’t say anything to kick the team after a bad loss. Clearly, I’ll never be employed by the New York Post.
9:25 – Game’s over and we’ve made our serpentine way through the bowels of MSG to the court. We wait.
9:30 – We wait some more. Again, if Gallo/Stat/Ronny chose to bail, I wouldn’t blame them.
9:31 – By the way, the fans in the pricey seats left a TON of food on the floor. Aside from the mess, those things are expensive and some people took less than one bite before throwing it away! Why not take it with you? It’s still good! Och!
9:33 – Stephen A. Smith walks by. Someone in our group yells out, “Quite frankly, I love them Cheesy Doodles!” I laugh like a hyena. If you’d like to get the reference, check out this clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAB5lOIl-2U. Heh. Cheesy Doodles.
9:35 – Gallo/Stat/Ronny come out. AMEX has swung us a free photo with them on the Knicks’ logo at center court. I wait my turn and step on to the sacred floor of Madison Square Garden. I’m 12 years old and Bernard King is still the best baller ever. I mime launch a three and stand next to the aforementioned trio. Kill me now.
(Side note — NBA players are really tall. The thing about watching games on TV is that, since everyone on the court is usually a ginormous human being (save Nate), one doesn’t realize how massive these guys really are. We’re not even the same species. There’s a photo coming of this moment via mail which I’ll share with y’all as soon as it arrives. I’ll be the midget sporting an ear-to-ear grin.)
9:36 – As the photographer gets ready, I say to Turiaf, “C’est dommage, mon gros!” (Translation: Too bad, my friend!) Completely unsurprised by my comment in French, he replies, “Oui, Oui, Le demain sera meilleur.” (Translation: Tomorrow will be better). Ronny Turiaf is super-cool. Then I say to Gallo, “In bocca al lupo! (Translation: Into the mouth of the wolf – it’s Italian slang that means, “good luck”). He was seriously taken aback, but still managed to pull off a fist bump while saying, “Crepi!” (Again, it literally means “Eat it!” but it’s slang for, “I will!”). Dap from Gallo plus a bit of linguistic gymnastics has me on cloud nine. I’m King Superfly Baddass Mofo.
9:40 – We find out the Q&A has been canceled. They’ve got to get on a plane to Cleveland. No quibbles here.
9:50 – I’m on 7th Ave again, killing my nic-fit and still in a daze (maybe it’s the literal truckload of buffet I gobbled). Thinking back on the evening’s events, I’m given pause by how much it didn’t feel like going to the game (at least not in any sense that I’d experienced before). I know we lost and I have a few ideas as to why, but the usual emotional highs and lows were for the most part completely absent. And then it hit me. I couldn‘t watch the game as a fan because I was there to report on the game. Now, I’m not saying I had a typical sportswriter’s experience. For one, I assume that real reporters aren’t nearly as star-struck as I was. But the thing I think I shared with those ink-stained wretches is the sense of detachment that’s required for the task at hand. There’s really no way to root for the Knicks and write about it as it happens (recaps for Knickerblogger are clearly another matter entirely) in any competent manner. So I sacrificed my emotional investment in order to type this. And were someone to pay me to report on this team on a daily basis (Ha!), I’d have to stop pulling for this team in order to do my job. I guess I just inadvertently discovered objective journalism.
Didn’t see that coming.
Hey, did you know that in addition to banging the keys here and occasionally for the NY Times, Robert is a playwright, an actor and a wand'ring mendicant/gadfly? He also once wrestled a bear...and lost.