I don’t know if there’s a right way to become a fan of a sports team, but here’s mine.
I was a weird kid who grew up in a sheltered and comfortable environment. My elementary school was small, and was within walking distance of my house. I also grew up essentially as an only child, as my sister is about ten years older than I am and the age gap throttled any chance at relating to one another. Consequently I spent a lot of time steeped in my imagination, cultivating a solitary weirdness. Those days, I spent most of my time playing video games alone or obsessing with one or two other weirdos over Ren & Stimpy, or other cartoons from which my solitude precluded outgrowth.
In 1992 the Knicks were a big deal. In fact they loomed larger over the tri-state area than at any other time I can remember. That year, perhaps eager to cultivate an interest in something that wasn’t juvenile, my father took me to my first Knicks game – a playoff tilt vs. the Pistons. I can’t draw on any tangible memories from the experience but I can draw on the mood, which was euphoric.
The timing of my first date at the Garden was fortuitous because I was soon forced to emerge from my comfortable shell to start middle school, which was grating in every way. No more could I vapidly frolic a few blocks to school whistling the theme song to Rugrats. I also had to contend with intimidating larger kids who were going through puberty when I was not. One of my first memories of middle school was of a total stranger deliberately throwing his shoulder into me in the hallway between classes. He laughed with his friends as I tumbled to the ground with a lump in my throat. Things were different.
I sensed a need for camaraderie so I instituted two coping mechanisms that, while not rescuing me from the social fringes, at least protected me lone-wolf-status, or from casting my lot with the goths or the emos. The first was an instinctive glomming to social outcasts. But even amongst a low caste I was at times subject to exclusion. I mean, I must have been really weird. The second was the Knicks, who played a sport I thought was fun but did not make time to follow in between episodes of Doug.
Out of necessity, I used the spark of that 1992 playoff game to ignite a fire of obsessive fanaticism, and the more fuel I fed it, the more kids to whom I could relate. The acceptance I gained through the Knicks yielded very slowly to general acceptance, and people probably got the sense that maybe this wispy, awkward kid had some redeeming characteristics.
Not only did I gain friends through nothing more complicated than talking about grown men throwing a ball through a metal ring but I also gained entirely independent interests. For example, one new friend had season tickets and treated me and a few others to games on a regular basis. His father was an executive for RCA Records and gave us free CDs at his office before games. I received “Enter the 36 Chambers” by the Wu-Tang Clan which I still regard as the finest rap album of all time. I memorized the lyrics and still know most of them by heart. My affinity for music grew and for some time, reached the same obsessive heights as my interest in the Knicks. Subsequently, music became something else I could talk to people about. Thanks Knicks!
I don’t need the Knicks for acceptance (or acceptance itself) anymore, but being a passionate fan has continued to pay dividends. I started a blog in the earlier days of Knicks blogging for no other purpose than to point out how annoying the New York Post’s coverage was, but in joining the movement early, I got to interact with a handful of amazingly talented and driven writers. Some of them even invited me to help write a book about Linsanity, an invitation that still delights and bemuses me.
Occasionally I stake out an unpopular position regarding my beloved ‘bockers that many folks on #KnicksTwitter loathe with a potent venom of religious passion. For awhile I used to be very upset by this, but on reflection, I know exactly where they are coming from, because if it wasn’t for the Knicks, I might still be sitting in my parents’ basement, eating Cocoa Puffs, and waiting in bated breath for new episodes of Ren & Stimpy.