NEW YORK — This is my third trip to the U.S. The first time, back in 1993 and together with the whole Pages family, we stayed in the West Coast. Then, we got to watch two MLB baseball games. The first was between the Colorado Rockies and the Los Angeles Dodgers (we saw Mike Piazza score a homerun). In the second game, the Oakland A’s played the Toronto Blue Jays (amazingly, I caught a ball in that game).
In my next trip here, my dad Bunny and I spent three weeks in NYC to watch the US Open. We witnessed Serena Williams win her first major and Andre Agassi win his second Open trophy.
For this trip, I made sure to watch two other sports. The first one, which I chronicled last week, was American football. In that Dec. 14 game, the New York Giants defeated the Washington Redskins at home (MetLife Stadium), 24-13. With my good buddy Ping-J Villegas, who’s resided in the Big Apple for over 17 years, we watched the outdoor game together with 70,000 others in cold 4C temperature. It was an unforgettably festive, beer-drinking, and loud atmosphere. It was very American.
Two nights after watching the NFL, I watched another kind of ballgame. Months before our trip, I purchased online tickets for the New York Knicks vs. Dallas Mavericks game.
Choosing between two teams here in NYC — the Knicks or the Brooklyn Nets — the choice was easy: the NY Knicks are one of the most iconic of NBA teams. And the venue (Madison Square Garden or MSG) is revered among the world’s indoor arenas.
And so last week — Tuesday night, Dec. 16 — my wife Jasmin, daughter Jana and I took the famous New York subway from Wall Street to Penn Station, a few blocks from MSG.
But before that, some pre-game activities: We toured Bryant Park in Manhattan, took photos of their ice-skating rink; we trekked 5th Avenue and gazed at the Empire State Building and other skyscrapers; and, visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral, we found out that there was a 12 noon mass. As we sat near the front pew awaiting the start of the holy celebration, a buzz started. Walking right by us was someone we listen to often: Andrea Bocelli. He not only visited but he heard mass with us.
For lunch, we dined at PotBelly Sandwich Shop. After touring the NY Public Library and several other famous spots, we took the open-deck Big Bus hop-on, hop-off bus and got off for our late afternoon destination: the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. It’s an amazingly well-done museum but, at the same time, it’s heart-breaking viewing all of those torn steel beams and horrific photos. It’s a must-visit place, the 9/11 site.
The game was to start at 8 p.m. Outside the huge oval coliseum (I wonder why it’s called ‘Square’ when it’s circular-shaped), the Madison Square Garden tagline explains it all: “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”
Neon lights that changed colors decorated the outside walls. As we arrived, hundreds of people had congregated and were lining-up. Security, like in most important venues here, was strict: we had to unload all items, including belts, coins and bag contents. As soon as we showed our tickets, we took several flights of stairs and were handed nice gifts: blue shirts with the Knicks logo. Perfect for Christmas (except for the shirt size: XL).
We followed the parade of people going up until we reached our seats: Row 225. Our tickets were priced at $172 each. These were not front row seats (these would sell for over $400) but they were not all the way at the ceiling. They were mid-range seats down the middle (not the back of the goals).
I wore the free Knicks shirt. Seated beside me was a couple from Brisbane, Australia who were also tourists (lucky them, a few nights before when we had yet to arrive, they watched the Nets-Cavs game when Prince William and Kate sat beside Jay Z and Beyonce).
MSG is historic. Built in 1968, it has hosted concerts of all major artists from Elvis Presley to Depeche Mode to John Lennon’s final concert before his murder. Ali-Frazier (Part I) fought here. More on Tuesday…