After a football season full of failed fantasy teams, bad gambling (if that were legal), and cheering for a team not in the playoffs, I decided to cleanse the palate and change my sports focus altogether to basketball. Last weekend, I pulled off a rare triple-header: played in a morning hoops game at some dingy gym, drove down to a mid-day college basketball game in Philly, and finished watching the Knicks at The Garden. The fan experience differed but the game results were similarly sad.
I got the call that my friend’s rec league team needed a fifth. Knowing that my basketball skills range somewhere between “you look a little rusty” to “maybe you should just stand over there as a decoy,” I figured he must’ve been desperate. I agreed to lace up the old high tops and hobble around with fellow thirtysomethings for a half hour or so. The game was only two 10-minute halves. I’m in decent shape. How bad could it be?
By the 90-second mark, I remembered being in decent shape and being in basketball shape are two different things. The other team ran a clinic so precise, I thought I heard Sweet Georgia Brown whistling in the background. All we could do was gasp and do our best to avoid embarrassment. By halftime, the only relief was that none of our friends or family was in attendance for the beating – that and the fact that the girlfriend of the other team’s best player looked like Danny Devito.
The second half featured more complaints about bad backs and sore knees than made buckets. The other team ran cold as well and was lucky to squeak by us with a 20-point win. That’s OK. We weren’t expected to win.
After a quick shower, I was off to Philadelphia through the snow and ice to watch my alma mater at the historic Palestra. The difference to the debacle in Manhattan was immediately clear. Bands were playing, people were actually cheering, and the players didn’t look winded in the lay-up line. The man next to us was so excited, he attempted to start a fire by rubbing his jeans against my friend’s leg. But after tip-off, the crowd was subjected to 20 minutes of sloppy basketball. Much like the rec league shellacking turnovers and missed shots ruled the day. During breaks in the action, cheerleaders did their best to keep the mood positive. Unfortunately, many of the girls could star on the competitive eating team as well. The only thing they did that spread good cheer was give out free t-shirts. In the second half, my school’s young, rebuilding team was unable to make a few key shots and came up short in a comeback bid. Loss number two for my day. That’s OK. We weren’t expected to win.
Besides needing a victory, my sore muscles from the morning were telling me I needed something else: beer. Luckily, as long as you’re willing to spend a small fortune, Madison Square Garden is happy to serve. Like the college game, the pro crowd was involved from the beginning. But unlike the supportive cheers at the Palestra, this mood was angry. Mired in a slump and off to a sloppy start, the second highest-paying fans in the NBA didn’t want excuses. They wanted a win. In fact, the man next to us was so angry, he attempted to start a fire by rubbing his jeans against my friend’s leg.
As the home team struggled to keep up with the opposing Nuggets (a team full of discarded Knicks), the only pockets of joy were the spectacular Knicks City Dancers and the beloved t-shirt cannon. The seesaw battle came featured a bevy of big shots down the stretch and it carried into overtime. Sadly, the Knicks lost their sixth in a row. Maybe I’m just bad luck. (Photos: Ed Daly/ANIMALNewYork)