What's it like to play at the World's Most Famous Arena? I got a chance to find out a few weeks ago when Foot Locker invited a group of journalists to play in a scrimmage at Madison Square Garden in New York City as part of its Hottest Month Ever campaign.
After changing into our game gear in the MSG visitor's locker room, the journalists-turned-hoopsters milled about in the tunnel outside the court, waiting for the green light to go on the floor. Let's just say we didn't look like the most athletic bunch. "I want to see someone dunk like Blake Griffin," joked one Foot Locker employee.
"Blake Griffin? More like Peter Griffin," cracked one journalist, referring to the dad from Family Guy.
When we got on the court, the power of MSG’s mystique hit me right away. After all, countless historic games — in the NBA and college basketball — were played on this very court. And now, here we were, a bunch of out-of-shape journalists playing on hallowed ground.
My squad was coached by former Knicks forward Mel Davis; the other side by another former Knick, Charles Smith. We warmed up for a few minutes. I was feeling pretty good — the rims were pretty friendly and my jumpers were going in. It was soon time for pre-game introductions. "From Sports Illustrated Kids...Sachin SHA-NECKLAR!" the announcer bellowed over the PA as I slapped hands with my teammates and ran to center court. Alright, so my name got butchered, but I had to put that behind me. It was game-time.
Just before we tipped off for two twenty-minute halves, Coach Davis called together my team for a pre-game huddle. What inspiring words would he say to will our team to victory? "Conserve your energy," Coach Davis told us. "And don't hurt yourselves." I pictured Phil Jackson giving the same advice to his 1998 world champion Chicago Bulls...but something tells me those words never came out of his mouth.
I got the start at shooting guard. As the game got under way, I passed the ball the first couple of times I got it, trying to get in the flow of the game and squash the butterflies in my stomach. Then, a few minutes in, I spotted up on the right side, got a pass, and threw up a shot. It rattled in! Two possessions later, I caught a pass behind the three-point line on the other side of the court and swished a shot. Hey, this wasn’t so bad.
And that's when the exhaustion set in. The pro-sized court is LONG. "When I got a rebound and looked down the other end of the court, I was like 'Whoa’," said one player at halftime, as he tried to catch his breath. The second half was ugly. As the players kept getting more and more tired, the turnovers, missed shots, and bricks piled up. I tried another three-pointer…and air-balled it. I bobbled a pass, drove to the basket… and blew a lay-up. I led a fast break and dished a pass…out of bounds.
My final stat line: five points, two assists, a couple of rebounds, two missed lay-ups, and WAY too many turnovers to count. But my team won, 41-26, so that’s what matters, right?
Afterward in the locker room all the players were jovial. “Did anyone NOT miss a layup in that game?” said one of my teammates with a laugh.
Despite the sloppy play, the afternoon was one we'll all remember for a long time. As one journalist-baller put it, "Playing at Madison Square Garden? I can cross that one off the Bucket List."