I’ve lived in New Jersey my entire life, a 30 minute drive from what my uncle always referred to as “The Capitol of the Freaking World.” In the summers, I regularly head to Queens to take in Mets games with my brother and sister, explore Manhattan and it’s various museums and restaurants, and I’ve even taken the occasional trip to the Bronx to see the dreaded Yankees.
Three years ago I made my first trip to what Michael Jordan famously called, “The Mecca of Basketball,” Madison Square Garden. The Spurs lost to the Knicks on St. Patrick’s Day, but I’ve made the trip in to see them at both the Garden and Barclays Center every year since.
My trip to MSG begins with a bus ride. Driving in Manhattan is a hassle and very expensive when you factor in tolls (15 bucks to cross the George Washington Bridge) and parking (as high as 60 bucks in some garages), so I always take NJ Transit buses when I go there (12 bucks round trip). Depending on the time of day, this ride takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.
For this week’s game, I get on the bus at 3:40 ET and arrive at Port Authority Bus Station at 4:30, with 3 hours to kill before tip-off. After getting off the bus, I head out of Port Authority with the intention of heading over to the new NBA store on 50th and 5th Ave (in Manhattan, the avenues run north and south, streets run east and west). Exiting Port Authority on 42nd, I am greeted by the skyline:
A trek from 8th Ave to 5th in the 40s-50s takes you through Time Square. It always amazes me how many people cram into this space for New Years Eve:
After walking past Bryant Park and the New York Public Library, I finally come to the NBA Store. The old one used to be a few blocks farther up, and was two floors. The new one is 3 floors and full of all kinds of cool NBA stuff, most of which you can also find online. After the purchase of a hat and a Kawhi Leonard shirt, it was 5:00 and I was ready to eat.
Manhattan is full of amazing places to eat. If you want it, chances are there’s a restaurant close by that has it. From classy Italian places to quick-bites at hot dog and Halal carts, there’s a host of places to choose from. My regular place is located on 31st, just behind the Garden. Known as Café 31, it’s a great spot that is actually much bigger than the storefront suggests. The wings are fantastic and usually my go to for quick eating, but with time to kill I went with their Bacon Buffalo Burger, two 6 oz patties with pepper jack cheese and topped off with tasty bacon and their Buffalo sauce, served with fries and washed down with two adult beverages.
The Garden is beautiful. There is a very subdued lighting on the court, a very warm light, if that makes sense. I have a seat next to press row, in the 100 sections. Last night was my first time on the Chase Bridge, which is above the arena.
You know about the game by now, I’m sure. It was awesome to see Kawhi get 30 minutes of run and score 25 points (longest on-court time since returning from injury and the most points), watch LaMarcus Aldridge splash jumpers and run the court hard, and hear Pau Gasol go, “arghhh!” after every shot that he missed (I am sure you guys notice this). I was fortunate to be sitting next to dedicated Manu Ginobili fans that serenaded him with applause every time he touched the ball. Every game I have ever gone to I’ve seen #20 do this thing and I was really happy to see him out there. Even at 40 he is an absolute joy to watch, as the PASSket shows.
With the Spurs firmly in control, I left the Garden with about 3 minutes left in the game. Quickly purchasing my ticket to get on the bus, I sprinted two levels and across Port Authority and managed to catch the 10 o’clock bus back home. That ride back after a win on a warm bus is among the sweetest things you can experience.
When I do Barclays in two weeks to watch the Spurs take on the Nets, a subway will be involved. But that’s a tale for another day...