When I was growing up in South Jersey, playoff games at Madison Square Garden were an event viewed from a distance.
My memories of watching Patrick Ewing and the Knicks every spring took place in the living room, or occasionally at a friend’s house. We weren’t the family to splurge on playoff tickets. That isn’t to say the devotion to the Knicks was any less complete than those who were actually in Madison Square Garden; but the proceedings, to me, had the glamorous quality of viewing a movie. It was at a remove.
When I began to cover Knicks games, the very fact that I’d now been granted entry to the Garden, and not just the stands, but the inner recesses, felt unreal to me. And it was fun. But I knew covering a playoff game that mattered- and I was under no illusions that last season’s battle with the Heat qualified- would feel like something else entirely.
Accordingly, Tuesday night, I had trouble getting to sleep. I’d been up since 6 AM with my daughter; the night before, I’d been in Brooklyn, covering the Nets until late. So it wasn’t a lack of fatigue. It was anticipation of covering a Game 5 at Madison Square Garden.
And yet, as I sat in the press area and took in that horrific performance, as shocked as the silent sellout around me, I was transported back to times nearly 20 years ago, and in a different state. Teenage years by a television served as a reference point, not any Knicks games I’d covered myself.
Deena Levy. It had been a beautiful spring day, and Deena Levy had worn the kind of outfit to celebrate it that allowed an eighth grade boy’s thoughts to be entirely consumed by it. I don’t even remember what she wore now; it wasn’t particularly racy, she wasn’t that kind of girl. I just remember the long, flowing blonde hair.
Between a day of classes filled with not-so-surreptitious glances at her, and knowing I’d be heading home to see the Knicks crush Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers in Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, June 1, 1994 was a very good day.
And then: 25 points in the fourth quarter. Spike Lee. Marv Albert. Destiny delayed. And I never did tell Deena how I felt.
Nothing has changed. The Knicks still floored me, and so many others, with the kind of loss no one saw coming. A different girl wears spring outfits now that keep my imagination occupied all day; however, she pretty much knows how I feel about her.
But I’d recently been in conversation with some Mets fans on Twitter about whether losses by my favorite baseball team bothered me less because of things like maturity, or because the Mets hadn’t played a game that mattered much in five years. I wasn’t sure.
I can tell you now; it’s the latter. Because the Knicks played a game that mattered Wednesday night, and they lost to a team they should have beaten, and even as I was putting emotion aside and covering what happened, the fan part of me was every bit as disappointed as I was nearly 20 years ago. Miller’s trash-talking was as odious as Jason Terry’s ability to both complain about the Knicks’ showboating and somehow still feel comfortable, after big shots, imitate a jet.
I’ll be replaying the loss in my head all day, and anticipating Friday night’s chance for team redemption, and thinking about what my wife will be wearing when she gets home today.
Nope, no maturity here.