For the first time in over a year, I went to Madison Square Garden for a basketball game last night. It was the Chicago Bulls against the New York Knicks, a legendary rivalry that was a lot more intense three decades ago. The Knicks won the game with a fourth-quarter rally. Which team won is really beside the point; it was a professional sports event in a mostly empty stadium. But for me, it was the turning point in the gradual return to normalcy after a year of horrors.
What was the same as before? Well, certainly the food. Chicken tenders and fries washed down with a beer. A modestly warm pretzel as dessert. The loud fan sitting at a distance over my shoulder screaming at the referee about a lousy call. The banners in the ceiling memorializing the past glories of the Rangers and Knicks. The Fan Cam which zoomed in on TV stars such as Mariska Hargitay of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit or four very large members of the New York Giants football team. The shouts of MVP for Knicks star Julius Randle when he lit up the Bulls for 15 points in the first half.
What was different than before? The precautions before entry to the Garden, from a Covid test result in the prior six hours to a Covid tracker. The 10 percent of maximum crowd in attendance. The surreal quiet which allowed you to hear the ball bouncing on the hardwood. The ability to talk without screaming to your seatmate. The empty bathrooms and concession counters, with no lines.
All of this pales in importance to how I felt. My last hoops game was the first round of the Big East Tournament on March 11 of last year. I went with three friends and had a good old time. The next day, we went into a three-month lockdown; I remained indoors for nine straight weeks, feeling at times vulnerable, at other times angry, at still others frustrated by my inability to control events. I walked out of the Garden last night into a drizzle but floated as I walked to the subway. In my mind’s eye, I was able to see a city crawling back to life. We will get there if everybody does his or her part, gets vaccinated, wears masks and behaves intelligently.
Richard Edelman is CEO.