When you’ve been waiting for practically your whole life to embark on an unforgettable trip to New York City, the list of things to do is almost endless: romantic trip to Central Park, elevator to the top floor of the Empire State Building or sunset walk crossing the Brooklyn Bridge while admiring the lights of the Big Apple skyline. Those who love NBA basketball, however, cannot resist buying a ticket to see a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden, a cult team in New York and beyond with perhaps the coolest merchandise in the entire league.
As luck would have it the Knicks played Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the very same week that I was in New York: the opportunity was too good to don’t whip all my savings into a ticket for the last ring of Madison Square Garden – from which, however, you can see quite well – from the for the modest cost of 421$.. It seemed as if all the planets had aligned to give me this unforgettable memory.
The arrival at Madison Square Garden
The rain that has been beating down nonstop for two days certainly did not stop Spike Lee and all 20,000 fans present at the palace to see Game 1 of the NY basketball team’s opener, which has been in abstinence from the stages that matter for a decade now. In fact, the last appearance in the conference semifinals was dated 2013 and in the blue and orange jerseys were Carmelo Anthony and Jason Kidd, just to name two. In short, the tension is so high that, the day before the game, a friendly clerk at the NBA Store advised my girlfriend and I to go to Madison at least two hours earlier. We took the suggestion literally and at 11 o’clock we were in front of the entrance (we were playing at lunchtime, for the record).
Welcoming us to #4 Pennsylvania Plaza, street vendors shouting “here’s t-shirts for Knicks Play-off“, as well as a long line of people consisting of both true fans waiting to sit in the stands and tourists simply interested in shopping inside the Store of Madison Square Garden. In short, we pass the checks, spend other $60 each on expensive souvenirs and…guess what? Back in line again, this time, however, to get through the turnstiles by finally scanning the QR code of the ticket, which for me could easily have been bogus, given the anxiety I carried from the day before.
Music is pumped into speakers scattered throughout the main lobby of MSG as if we were at a rave; people standing in line taking videos with their phones to post their stories on Instagram while more technical fans try to find a solution, not even Coach Thibodeau himself, to the raids of Jimmy Butler. It must be said, that Madison Square Garden is built really well so much so that the view from our seats is not even that bad (it reminded me of the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid). I immediately get two beers and a huge package of popcorn because everything in the U.S. is gigantic ($25 total but they forgot to charge me for a beer, I won’t realize it until the next round). We put on our blue T-shirts for the choreography kindly given to us by Knicks marketing and are ready to begin.
Knicks – Heat: first half
The show of the NBA is remarkable in itself, but the good fortune of watching the playoffs live, is priceless. New York’s first team comes to the two-game ball orphaned of their second best player, Julius Randle, who came back from a minor ankle injury in Game 5 of the first round of the playoffs against the Cavs. Nevertheless, the first two quarters of Game 1 of the Conference Semifinals saw the Knicks pretty much in control, thanks largely to that phenom Jalen Brunson.
The player from Villanova is off the scale: always in control of the pace of the game and you know that every choice he makes can lead to a basket or an assist. He enters the area, stops and raises his left arm for a tear that gently caresses the net. Next offensive phase, the action is identical only this time Bam Adebayo arrives to close the valley. No problem, dump out and it’s 3 points. About those lavish twenty-four minutes, I discussed them in detail in the first episode of our podcast Four Quarters with Luca (if you missed it, you can catch up with the first episode of the podcast here).
Still, something doesn’t add up, and the same goes for Knicks fans: it seems as if the Heat’s veterans are waiting for the right moment to strike, to bite the prey and leave it on the ground in agony. Among them, we find Kevin Love who, between a charging foul and a full-court opening, manages to keep his team afloat. The first half between the New York Knicks and Miami Heat ended 55 to 50: too little for Thibodeau’s boys who pushed and not a little to find themselves only up by five lengths, however.
Knicks – Heat: second half
New round of beer and a couple of hot dogs (probably the best eaten up to that point): the halftime show is remarkable too bad, however, that we watch it with a distracted eye, simply because the urge to start watching the NBA again is too great. To pass the time, we chat with our friends who are one row above where we are. Meanwhile, there is a Heat fan to our left, just a couple of chairs away, chanting a really boring tune consisting of only two words, “Jimmy Butler” casually flaunting the red number 22 tank top as well. Mark this supporter, because it will be the funniest thing that happened in the second half.
The third period continues in the wake of the previous one. Miami nibbles more and more points off Brunson and co.; halfway through the quarter it puts its head ahead for the first time from the initial contest and from then on it does not stop: 31 – 20 the final partial with some blue and orange fans starting to grumble and losing patience, partly because of some rather dubious whistles. The one who is cheering, however, is the Heat jersey loyalist mentioned above, the one who was humming the worst song in history. Well, this hero came very close to being roughed up by a group of people, obviously Knicks fans, who wanted to enjoy Game 1 in peace. Fortunately, there was only barking, no butting, and in all honesty, I would have had no desire to be in the middle of an unlikely brawl at Madison Square Garden.
The game meanwhile, after Miami’s acceleration in the third quarter, waned in intensity, with the Knicks resigned to having lost the home-court advantage. Before the buzzer, however, one last twist: Jimmy Butler injures his ankle but a few minutes later gets back on his feet, fortunately doing well. Madison gives him a standing ovation, symbolizing, however, that before the greatness of a player who almost single-handedly dragged his team against the Milwaukee Bucks, there are no colors that hold.
The Heat win Game 1 108 to 101: the stares of the 20,000 in the stands are directed to the floor, challenged, because they could easily have gotten off on the right foot. My eyes and my girlfriend’s also point downward: the party is over, it’s still raining outside, we are scheduled to leave for Rome two days later, and our New York vacation is almost over. Before leaving Madison, however, the last gasp from a fan who to say exalted is an understatement: “Knicks in five, Knicks in five” He was convinced that the Knicks would have win that series in five games. I also thought the same.