Photo: John Smith / Corbis via Getty Images
Amid discussions about another variant of the coronavirus, last Tuesday may not have seemed like the best time to allow thousands of people to congregate inside for hours. That didn’t deter the Knicks and Nets from playing in front of fans for the first time in a year at Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center after Governor Cuomo lifted restrictions. And indeed, the precautions taken during the games were strict. The number of tickets was capped at 10 percent capacity, or about 2,000 per game; participants had to present a negative COVID test taken within the previous 72 hours; and social distancing and the wearing of masks have been aggressively enforced. For superfans looking for a sense of community with other superfans, attending the first game was worth the risk. We spoke to six fans who were at the Garden on Tuesday about the experience of the game, the arena and the crowd.
Richard Rosenthal, a Knicks season ticket holder, was hesitant when invited by a friend.
As I got ready to leave, I found myself changing my shirt. And I was like, Why am I worried about what I’m wearing for the Knicks game? And then I realized I wanted to wear the Knick colors – my orange Knicks shirt and a blue sweater. My wife asked, “Are you excited?” And I said, “I am! I really have butterflies in my stomach.
I felt extremely confident that I was going to be safe, and I have to say that when I went through the whole procedure they put in place I was so impressed with how well the procedure went. When I walked into the garden, saw the yard, and saw the guys shooting, I got a little foggy. A friend texted me: “Was it touching?” I said, “Yes, absolutely.” He said, “I felt it on TV too.”
There was nothing fancy [in the game presentation] except for fans and gamers. The celebrity row consisted of two people ten feet apart – [former New York Giant] Justin Tuck and Tracy Morgan. Everyone was scattered – rows between people, at least eight to ten seats between people in a row. And the energy was there. Songs of “Defense!”, Songs of “Let’s Go Knicks!” And when Julius Randle was announced – and you can hear my voice shaking now – chants of “MVP! MVP! Because he was elected in his first All-Star game that day. It was just awesome. I found it to be a very good experience in New York. The only time I’ve seen people take off a mask was yelling about two foul calls in the last three minutes, and they were horrible calls against the Knicks! I came home and said to my wife, “I spent three and a half hours feeling normal.”
Gregory Armstrong was eager to see his team as they are unexpectedly playing well this season.
No one expected that we were going to have a rebirth here. So, it was really a desperate time to try to get into the building. It was like going on a date – I had to get out of my outfit, make sure I had the right shoes. I haven’t missed the opening of the season for 30 years. The doors opened at 6 p.m. I am a unique fan: I advertised for Bud Light and I have my picture on the wall at Madison Square Garden. So I went to the Chase Bridge [catwalk seating area] just to see if she was still there, and it was, so I kissed the picture on the wall. I’m still here.
The only thing that was weird was that when I finally walked into the garden, into the hallway, it was weird. I mean, I’ve been in the empty building before. But the fact that it was game night and there were only minimal fans – it was just a little surreal. I had a friend there who was in my area and tried to go downstairs to see him, but they had the unsold seats roped up.
The dancers were not there in body but they were there in spirit. In the third quarter, they showed video of a previous performance at another game. Most of the other things were the basic game operations that they normally do. They played a lot of rap music. They have the organ; they played the defense songs. But the point is, he just had the audience of a preseason game or a scrum. The building has a 10% capacity – you can’t really recreate the energy of 20,000 people with a small crowd.
Model Lionel Eba is a regular at Knicks games and has come down from his apartment in Hudson Yards.
In a way, it was really good because in general it’s really crowded – you can’t get in very fast. But on Tuesday, there was no contact. Each ticket has its own entrance, so there is no waiting in line. They check your temperature, and you have to come in with the PCR test, and they match it to your ID, and they let you in. And usually when you quit a game you’re stuck for a while, but Tuesday within two seconds you were out. Obtaining the tickets was not difficult. Everything was done through the MSG app. It was really weird inside the arena with only 2000 people, but after being home for so long seeing different types of people was so exciting. It was noisy. Nothing like it before, but there were fans screaming.
We still missed the energy and the big crowd. They don’t have much food anymore. They only have hot dogs and soda – no nachos or chicken fillets. Usually they would throw t shirts to the public or things like that. Now everyone who came to the game received a free t-shirt. There was a trash can where you could take one.
Basketball-obsessed Atlanta teenager Jourden Moore jumped at the chance to watch a game.
I was at our hotel in Manhattan and I was looking online and it was like, “Fans are welcome.” It was just crazy to be there, because I know the story of how many people have played there – how the garden is that great place for basketball, about Kobe hosting big ones there. matches. Everyone was happy too. A lot of people were walking around saying, “I missed it.”
They had a welcome video preview, then [Julius Randle] gave a speech welcoming fans and talking about his enthusiasm for the All-Star Game. It was super loud – like going to an open gym. The DJ was playing music the entire game so I guess it was to fill in some of that noise. There were people getting drunk and all that. There was [Steph] The curry fans upstairs screaming. I wonder how it is at full capacity.
Jeffrey Silverman couldn’t refuse a friend offering great seats.
The previous Friday I told some of my friends that I was going and there was a lot of jealousy. It wasn’t, “You’re going to see the Knicks and the Golden State Warriors.” It was more like, “Oh my God, you’re going to a live event.” The staff at the Garden were really welcoming, very happy to see people there and couldn’t have been more accommodating. I think the fans were very respectful and grateful that they were able to make it happen. The press was not there – I think they were in the boxes. You couldn’t bring the normal things. I had to leave my things at work, so I didn’t bring anything at all. You were not allowed to bring a briefcase.
What was strange was the lack of people in there. You look around thinking it’s just surreal. I’ve been to concerts here, I’ve been to games here. It’s empty. But for so few people it was a bit noisy. I’m not sure how much it’s been added to improve it, but we got some cheers. When Randle got there and it was announced he was going to the All-Star Game, people started chanting, “MVP! MVP! I think Madison Square Garden has done an incredible job, and it’s difficult for this organization to do a good job. Going out was pretty cool. Besides the fact that they lost, everyone seemed a little higher.
Superfan Anthony Donahue returned to the Garden with a heavy heart after losing his sister to brain cancer over the summer.
Of course, everything was surreal. Even though the Knicks have been bad over the years, the backyard is still packed. No disrespect to my Nets fan friends, but I felt like I was going to a Nets game in the early 90s.
With everyone at their wit’s end, I just didn’t know what to expect. So I got there early, at 3pm, and everything went really well – I’ll be honest with you, much smoother than I thought. It was really cold. I was one of the first in line. [After getting in] I just took it. I breathed the air. I shed a tear. And then I saw security guards and officers that I have known all my life. It was very moving, especially with everything that has happened in my life, lose my little sister. I’ve stayed in touch with a lot of people on social media and stuff like that, but you get to see them in person, it’s very, very emotional. I do [Knicks fan events] and every Knicks game fans over the years have stopped by to tell me that they love my job and appreciate what I do. Five or six different fans came to see me on Tuesday night and offered their condolences for my sister. Random people I’ve never met. It really caught me off guard and the first few times, I mean, I immediately had tears in my eyes.