Compared to the best teams in the National Basketball Association's Eastern Conference, the New York Knicks have second-tier talent. But when I had a great time watching them play at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, it had nothing to do with basketball.
The Knicks were playing another weak team in the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia 76ers. The game was close the whole way, but neither team performed well. There was bad defense, many turnovers and lots of missed shots. So what left me and almost 19,000 other fans captivated throughout the game? We didn't just see a basketball game — we saw a show.
Sunday was "Kids Day" at The Garden, which meant that local kids would be used to entertain fans at every conceivable stop of the game's action. It started with the announcement of the starting lineups, when a 6-year-old girl introduced the Knicks' starters with the grace of a professional. She nailed the name of starting center Timofey Mozgov and added a St. Petersburg-sounding accent to boot.
At halftime I watched the Knicks City Kids, a group of 7 to 14-year-olds, perform a dance routine that blew away the Knicks cheerleaders. Then I saw what's called the Knicks Sports Jamz Talent Search, a contest in which three children perform a song and the audience picks the winner. A chubby-cheeked 7-year old won the honors after gracing the audience with a rendition of R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" that I swore came out of someone else's mouth.
As I was walking out of the stadium, I saw a Knicks poster that said "The Greatest Fans on Earth." My observation of Knicks fans was that they were knowledgeable, passionate and very loud -- even though their team has been abysmal for most of the last decade. This made me think about University of Richmond's basketball games in the Robins Center, and how we could create a similar experience at our home games.
Richmond basketball games, like Knicks games at the Garden, offer a lot to watch other than the on-court action. I've seen free throw shooting contests, sumo wrestling and a woman that walked on stilts while juggling. I wonder whether Richmond students that do not attend basketball games would come if they knew about these moments.
Richmond students have always been criticized for their attendance at home football games, but to me that's understandable. At home football games, there's not much to do other than watch football. It takes real fans to give up more than three hours of their weekend to watch a Football Championship Subdivision game when they could flip between Bowl Championship Series games from their couch in their underwear.
Basketball games are much more viewer-friendly. They're shorter, usually about two hours, and weather is always perfect in the Robins Center.
Also, most games are played on weekdays, which means students can use college basketball as a respite from a long day of classes.
The best part for Richmond students is that unlike New York, we have an excellent team to watch. Last year, the men's team made the NCAA Tournament and was ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. This year's team returns 14 of 16 players from last year's team, and is receiving votes in both the ESPN/USA Today and Associated Press Top 25 Preseason Polls for the first time in school history.
At 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 12, Richmond men's basketball opens its season at the Robins Center against The Citadel. I encourage everyone to come. You don't have to be a basketball fan to enjoy the show.
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