New York’s basketball-starved NBA fans got a taste of normalcy amid the pandemic on Tuesday night as roughly 2,300 total spectators witnessed games at Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center for the first time in nearly a year.
‘It’s a big deal,’ Nets season ticket holder Rich Schaefer told AFP. ‘Hopefully we’re standing here in six months and there’s 20,000 fans.’
Governor Andrew Cuomo recently loosened coronavirus restrictions on indoor sporting events, approving crowds at 10 percent capacity while requiring that all staff and spectators receive a negative COVID-19 test and provide documentation within 72 hours of the game.
The Brooklyn Nets were even more prudent for Tuesday’s win over the Sacramento Kings, welcoming only 300 fans at 17,000-seat Barclays Center, sending out at-home testing kits beforehand, and administering a nasal swab for antigen rapid testing at the gate.
Meanwhile in Manhattan, 2,000 COVID-free fans got an extra dose of familiarity as the Knicks blew a big second-half lead in a loss to Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.
Fans arrive early prior to the start of the game between the New York Knicks and the Golden State Warriors at Madison Square Garden, which had not welcomed spectators since last year
Knicks fans were required to wear masks and test negative for COVID to enter Tuesday’s game
Madison Square Garden had not hosted any fans since the pandemic swept the US last year
In Manhattan, 2,000 fans got an extra dose of familiarity as the Knicks blew a big second-half lead in a loss to Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors
Nets fans eat at Barclays Center between plexiglass dividers during Brooklyn’s win on Tuesday
‘The Knicks almost won, but it wouldn’t have been a Knicks game if they didn’t lose,’ fan Ben Soffer told the New York Post on Tuesday night.
To be fair, the Knicks’ 15-17 record under new coach Tom Thibodeau is a marked improvement for a team that hasn’t been to the postseason since 2013. (Despite their struggles, the Knicks typically rank among the NBA’s top-10 teams in attendance)
But Tuesday’s outcome notwithstanding, the moment was a welcome reprieve for restless Knicks and Nets fans who have been forced inside by the pandemic and a recent string of snowstorms.
NEW YORK’S INDOOR SPORTING EVENT COVID-19 GUIDELINES
In order to host fans at sporting events, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is requiring that venues do the following:
- Institute a 10 percent capacity limit in arenas and stadiums
- Ensure all staff and spectators receive a negative COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours of the event
- Mandate face coverings, social distancing and temperature checks for all those in attendance
- Mandate assigned, socially distanced seating
- Collect contact information from all those in attendance to help inform contact tracing efforts
- Meet enhanced air filtration, ventilation and purification standards
- Ensure retail, food services and athletic activities abide by all state-issued guidance
‘The evening was completely electric,’ Soffer continued. ‘Only real Knick fans were there — completely die hard.’
‘I missed the camaraderie, I miss seeing everybody,’ Knicks fan Anthony Donahue told AFP.
Another Knicks fan, Kastriot Rukir, told the Post that it just ‘felt nice to get out of the house,’ calling the evening ‘one of the best nights in a long time.’
As for the COVID-era safety precautions, seats were roped off, fans all appeared to be masked and distanced, and as Soffer explained, there was an ‘unbelievable amount of hand sanitizer.’
‘They took a lot of precautions,’ Nets fan Michelle Gall told AFP. ‘We had to be tested twice, once on Sunday – again once before we came in.’
The Knicks did not send fans at-home testing kits, but rather worked with a pair of testing companies to fast track the verification process.
Both teams required face coverings, but the Nets went a step further, banning ‘single layer cloth masks, neck gaiters, bandanas, and masks with valves or vents.’
The Nets also pushed the distances in the stands from six to nine feet, and turned on the air system several times an hour in order to vent as much as possible.
Both teams paid tribute to the healthcare workers, and a number were invited as guests at MSG on Tuesday.
Ahead of the Knicks-Warriors tip-off, the socially distanced crowd also paid tribute to the 29,000 New Yorkers killed by coronavirus with a moment’s silence.
But Donahue’s joy at getting back inside MSG was tinged with sadness and pain after the death of his 21-year-old sister Gianna Gregoire from brain cancer in August.
Gregoire, also a hardcore Knicks fan, would go to about ten or 15 games a season with her brother.
‘It was very emotional, there were a lot of tears. She was there with me spiritually like she is every second of every day,’ said Donahue.
He said it had been ‘horrible’ to have been locked out of the Knicks’ arena over the past year while enduring such tragedy.
‘The Garden is my outlet over the years. Even if the Knicks aren’t winning, life is always great when you’re at the Garden. It’s where I need to be.
‘Five or six different fans found me tonight and said, ‘I’m sorry about Gianna.’ That really tore me up,’ Donahue added.
As a season ticket holder for around two decades, Donahue got priority for the highly sought-after tickets which were selling on the secondary market for as high as $5,127, according to TicketIQ.com.
Donahue arrived three hours before the 7:30pm tip-off, in part to make sure their health declarations and negative Covid tests — within the past 72 hours — were in order.
‘I have to breathe the Garden air,’ said Donahue.
Barclays Center welcomed only 300 fans for Tuesday’s game between the Nets and Kings
People line up outside Madison Square Garden to attend a Knicks game amid the pandemic