Saturday, April 11, 2015

An Introduction to Pro Basketball (and Giant Foam Hands)

My strategy for economically attending New York sporting events continues to pay off. All I do is wait for a professional team to fail miserably and then buy tickets on the cheap.

I've done it three years in a row with the Mets — patiently waiting until September to go to Citi Field with Elliot. Now I've used the same tactic with the basement-dwelling Knicks.

Elliot played basketball for the first time last winter, so it seemed like an opportune time to check out a pro game. I got tickets on ScoreBig (which lets you name your price), and we headed down to Madison Square Garden on Friday.

I myself haven't attended an NBA game since the '00s, and things have definitely changed.

There are a lot more screens, for one — high-res screens, touch screens, crazy ceiling screens that show a Knicks-inspired skyline.

Even with all this visual stimulation, Elliot seemed most excited about getting a giant foam finger. I made the mistake of saying he could buy any of the foam fingers available at Madison Square Garden. So he chose the one that costs $35.

It came in handy for reaching the giant touch screen.

The New York Times did a piece this week on how the Knicks have to rely on bread-and-circus distraction to keep the fans engaged.

This is true. There were near-constant reminders about the celebrities sitting at floor level — with jumbotron clips featuring Edie Falco, Aziz Ansari and Hilary Swank. (When James Marsden came on the screen, I nudged Elliot and said, "Look, it's the star of 'Hop.'" We don't have great cinematic taste in our family.)

The arena crew also came out every few minutes to shoot T-shirts at the crowd. This was another change for me: The last time I attended an NBA game, T-shirt cannon technology wasn't nearly as advanced. The guns have gotten smaller, lighter and more powerful. I feel like this is an underreported story.

Was this totally necessary? The fact is, the game was pretty exciting in its own right — until the second half. That's when the Knicks' opponent, the Milwaukee Bucks, pulled away.

Elliot was determined to stay for the whole game. At one point in the fourth quarter, the Knicks called a timeout and many fans began to file out of the arena.

"Why are they leaving, Daddy?" Elliot asked.

"Well, the Knicks are down by a lot. A lot of people are probably thinking the Knicks aren't going to come back."

"They aren't coming back?!" Elliot said, alarmed.

"I didn't mean that. The Knicks are coming back. They wouldn't leave in the middle of a game."

In the end, the Knicks lost. But they held the Bucks to less than 100 points. And while Elliot didn't get a free T-shirt, I hope he developed a lifelong appreciation for fast-paced sports where merchandise is shot at you from a cannon.

And even if he didn't...

...I can already tell that this family is going to get its $35 worth out of the finger.