Basketball returns home

Knicks fans — 15,000 of them — turned up yesterday at Madison Square Garden.
Knicks fans — 15,000 of them — turned up yesterday at Madison Square Garden.
Photo: Getty Images

Even as just a casual basketball fan, I have not missed out on the schadenfreude of the New York Knicks the past decade. It’s always affirming when a place that considers itself essential to a sport, perhaps to the world through that sport, is rendered irrelevant. Watching the Knicks’ sense of self become a house of cards has been a boost to just about everyone’s psyche.

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Of course, the problem is that slide into irrelevance gets annoying. And cumbersome. Because eventually, a fandom and place that is so accustomed to being the center of attention has to fill that void with something. It can’t simply remain on the side and in the dark. They have to run for the light. And that thrusting into the center spotlight is invariably wailing heard from space. A constant drone of perceived indignities. The constant pounding of nailing themselves to a cross. It never ends, and there’s no escape. Because the things that make them the center of that sporting universe, the size and passion of the fandom, means there’s an endless supply.

So it was almost a relief to see the Knicks return to the playoffs. The noise level will still be the same, but at least it’ll be different noise.

And I have to admit, there is something different about the Garden. Sure, it’s been redone, and it’s probably not the cacophonous shrine that it used to be. But MSG, and New York, is just about the only place where basketball truly matters. Sure, the Nets have tried their pseudo-Islanders thing for front-runners and hipsters who moved to Brooklyn from Connecticut or Ohio, but NYC is still a Knicks town.

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Hey it’s Tracy Morgan and Jon Stewart!
Photo: Getty Images

Lakers games might be bigger “happenings,” and MSG no less filled with celebrities, but it always feels like those in MSG grew up Knicks fans and would be there if they flamed out at their first open mic night at The Cellar.

And MSG last night sounded like playoff basketball. Looked like it, too. Raucous, knowledgeable, and with that New York sneer that lets you know it thinks it’s the only place that matters, and that whatever happens there is just a little more special. An actual home court advantage for a fanbase that has waited too long, dealt with too much from a too-shithead-to-believe owner, and didn’t get to enjoy this team fully because of the pandemic. There was palpable, audible catharsis in all of it. As the game grew to its crescendo and the building felt like it would lift off the ground with each Alec Burks bucket, it almost felt like the dawn of something. The Knicks are the only thing that still brings all of New York together, and you could see and hear it last night. It was the league re-centering itself, somehow. The Knicks, returning to being the pivot point of the NBA.

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This is what our sporting events can look and sound like again as we vaccinate, as 90 percent of fans allowed into The Garden were vaccinated.

And all of that is even better when the Knicks lose, as they did last night thanks to a slick runner by Trae Young with less than a second remaining. Oh, I think they just called another foul on Young, dopes.

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An Oiler spill

Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the spectrum as far as place on the sporting consciousness, the Edmonton Oilers continued their unstoppable quest to waste one of the great individual seasons in hockey’s history. They went down 0-3 in their series with the Winnipeg Jets, losing Game 3, 5-4 in overtime. But merely losing Game 3 wouldn’t be enough for the Oilers. Anyone can just slink out of the playoffs unnoticed. Irish goodbye it.

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No, the Oilers had to blow a 4-1 lead in the third period. It only took them three minutes! And they’re doing this against a team that has been a mess for years, has tried to get their coach fired for years, has no defense to speak of, and that same coach held game-winner Nikolaj Ehlers out of the lineup an extra game because he didn’t want to introduce him and Pierre-Luc Dubois into the lineup at the same time from injury. Again, didn’t want to bring back two of his best wingers as soon as possible for reasons that only exist in his softening skull. That’s who the Oilers are spitting it up against.

Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

We can't be too careful. Two guys in an airport...talking? It's a little fishy.