The following is a true story, although I’m having a terribly difficult time believing it myself.
I was handed an opportunity to take a train to New York Penn Station Thursday, go up some escalators to Madison Square Garden, and cover the official unveiling for the World’s Most Famous Arena after its three-year renovation for my favorite, SLAM. [Link to my write-up on SLAMonline here.]
To kick off the event, there were some NYC celebrities walking the Blue Carpet at the 7th Ave entrance to MSG, but I doubted I’d be familiar with many. I got a list from the people running the event with some headshots and names, and sure enough, I only knew the Knicks legends. Some experienced camera people and reporters pushed their way to the front to capture each blink and pose from the very human people who came by. Standing on my tiptoes, I got glimpses of Knicks legends, Walt “Clyde” Frazier and John Starks. I was slightly unimpressed with the whole carpet thing, so I made my way into the press conference room.
The press conference was held in the new Chase Square, with a Knicks/Rangers merch store in the middle and get this—LED screens on the ceiling…I’ll get to that in a minute, but first—Al Trautwig.
Al Trautwig, host of the Knicks pre-game and post-game shows, was standing in Chase Square like a totally normal guy, which he is…I guess I was just surprised to see someone I recognized from television in the same physical space as me. I walked past and simply took my seat, but kept alert to make sure I still had a chance to go say something. I mustered up the confidence after texting my brother and said hi to Mr. Trautwig, I’m a big fan, and it was nice to see a familiar face here as I’m covering something like this for the first time. He was super nice, said he’s glad he’s a familiar face (any Knick fan would know the guy!), and asked my name. He started off the press conference which consisted of Knicks legend Willis Reed, Governor Cuomo of New York, Executive Chairman of MSG Jim Dolan, and more.
In the audience were all the media people (including a friendly photographer who introduced himself as Shaggie), Clyde, John Starks, Larry Johnson, and again, more. There was a lot of clapping, a wonderful promo with glimpses of the Garden’s rich history, and a show-type-thing that played above our heads. Yeah, everyone looked up, slightly straining their necks, to see the ceiling turn into a screen with an LED version of Melo waving down and smiling, dribbling and passing to teammates Raymond Felton, JR Smith, and Iman Shumpert, and an ant’s view of the City. It was really awesome and different, though I’m not too sure what it’ll be used for throughout the year. But you know, the coolness factor hit the ceiling.
With a few minutes of down time between the press conference and tour, me and Bill Pidto made some awkward eye contact to continue the trend from the Blue Carpet part of the event…it’s as if he knew I didn’t regularly watch his halftime show…sorry man.
We were led up some escalators and through some doorways to none other than the Garden floor. I was in the paint, looking up at the stands. The scoreboard was over my head as were the names of Knicks legends who stepped on the very same court and made the Garden what it is today. I wondered if I looked like a rookie reporter, totally awed with the sights around me. The lights were bright, the arena was huge, and the action I’m so in love with watching would take place right there where my feet were in less than a week.
From the floor, we went up to different levels, inside suites, the lounges, all of that. I got mixed up with the photo/video tour and found myself walking behind Clyde. I knew this opportunity was a rare one so I caught up to the two-time NBA Champion and asked him a question, and yes, he says things like “winning and grinning” in everyday conversation.
I caught up with my own reporters-only group and we ended the tour where we started—on the Garden floor. It was all beginning to hit me, and I had to take a seat, courtside of course, right across the Knicks bench. I imagined watching a game from this angle with Melo zooming across, Woody on the opposite sideline, Spike Lee in a seat adjacent to mine. Everything seemed unreal, but then again, a lot of what happened since April 2013 after I sent a letter to SLAM seemed unreal too.
When it was all over, I got my stuff together and slowly exited the building, the newly transformed Garden in the heart of a world-famous city that my all-time favorite sports team calls home. I unnecessarily circled around to find my way to the NJ Transit area of Penn Station and got on a train back to New Brunswick/reality for a class. Yeah, I didn’t even need to skip school to cover the event.
This morning I wrote up my story for SLAM, complete with a photo gallery of official pictures from MSG, and my first byline on the site with a link to my Twitter handle and everything. Alhamdulillah, I’ve been smiling all day, it’s silly. I snapped a few pictures myself with my dying phone on Thursday and included some in the gallery above.
Thanks for letting me share this experience, and I hope everyone has an incredible weekend.