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Why I won’t be going back to Madison Square Garden any time soon

By Nathan BraunMarch 7, 2017

Basketball Getty

My love affair with professional sports can probably be described as a rocky one at best. Growing up as an offbeat kid interested in writing and seeing movies, following Bay Area sports was in many ways the only way I could connect with the other boys at my Middle School. While I may not have been cool or especially popular during those days, knowing things about sports helped turn the social dynamics there into something resembling a meritocracy, where I’d be allowed to join them at the lunch tables so long as I held my own while debating Frank Gore’s stats or the Giants' World Series odds. But as I got older and found myself going down an arts track in my education, sports became less and less of community experience. I’d chat with my dad and brother about the Niners’ ineptitude or the dominance of the Warriors, and would often opt to watch baseball games on my laptop rather than the endless amount of sports bars in New York.
Yet, despite my instincts, I decided this past weekend to attend the Knicks-Warriors game at Madison Square Garden, the first basketball game in almost a decade I’d attended and the first ever as a visiting fan. I’d planned to go with a friend of mine, but due to some seemingly inevitable MTA shenanigans, she ended up being delayed until about halftime. So there I was in the cheap seats watching the first half action on my own, on what turned out to be the game the Knicks experimented with removing all additional music and video elements from the game. And while the media-free game play has been discussed as a polarizing experience, what it did was open my ears to the nature of sports crowds.
Because I had a mom who taught me to stay out of fights and not make trouble, my philosophy on sports has always been to be a positive presence. Even if my team was not the majority of the arena’s team, I still knew to cheer for my team and not actively jeer against the Knicks (in part because they’re the Knicks and they’ve suffered enough). And yet while I tried to keep quiet and watch the action, every few minutes I’d hear a fellow Warriors fan drunkenly yell out some vitriol at whatever Knick held the ball or their families. Because our seats were effectively in a different zip code from the players on the court, their shouts did little to affect the game play. Instead what it started as was a back a forth war of words with equally intoxicated Knicks fans that would only sporadically quiet down when one of them would deploy the threat of violence. While this was occurring, I found myself shrinking further and further in the hopes that if any physical situation broke out I’d be mistaken for a tortoise and safely left out of the action.
And when my sports-agnostic friend finally arrived, I was full on depressed at the scene for reaffirming what many of my friend's worst expectations of sports were; a place for hateful and misogynistic actions and insults, rather than something that can bring people together, even if they hold opposing viewpoints. While the second half brought back the musical and video elements as distractions, I couldn’t help but wish there was some way instead to silence the crowd and allow people like me to enjoy the thrill of something that at its core is designed to not be taken that seriously. And who knows if my experiences would’ve changed if I’d ended up in a different section or was more insulated by friends with sports knowledge. But if the options are conform to the loud-mouthed, aggressive group identity or stay at home and remain me, well I’ll take the latter for now.