It’s bigger than the game.

by Amy McLeod
July 25, 2010

I interviewed Brent Lefferts, a co-worker at CBS radio.  Fifteen years ago he attended a basketball game at Madison Square Garden.  That game changed his life, making him realize that he wanted to be involved with sports broadcasting.  This is the story of that night.

It’s March 29, 1995.  It’s the New York Knicks and the Chicago Bulls at Madison Square Garden.  Patrick Ewing and Michael Jordan.  This is going to be epic.

I got three tickets to the game for my 21st birthday.  I have been waiting for this day for about two months and now, it’s finally here.

Ewing jersey on.  Backward Knicks hat situated perfectly on my head. Nike tennis shoes on.  Camera, extra film and ticket in hand.  I’m out the door.

The half-hour train ride brings me right into Penn Station.  As I exit the train and follow the signs to Madison Square Garden, the excitement is mounting.  I can feel the energy already.   It’s electric.

I’m a little early, as planned, and get to take my time navigating the concourse of the Garden.  There are banners lining the walls detailing many notable athletic competitions and musical performances that have taken place in Madison Square Garden.  I’m in awe as I wander around, taking it all in.

My two best friends arrive and we enter the arena together.   Grabbing a hot dog and a beer on the way to our seats, we get the nourishment we need to make it through the game.

We take our seats as the teams finish their warm-ups on the court.  I, along with probably everyone else in the arena, have my eye on Michael Jordan.  He was retired and this is only his fifth game since he reentered the sport. The big question, is how he will play?  He tends to do well in the Garden, but we, as Knicks fans, are hoping that’s not the case.

As the teams go back into the tunnel for their final time before the game starts, I can feel the excitement knotting in my stomach.  Not only am I in Madison Square Garden, the best place in the world to watch a game, but I’m about to see a battle royale between two of the best players in the game.

Ewing and Jordan have battled each other since the 1982 NCAA Championship game when Ewing was at Georgetown and Jordan was at the University of North Carolina.  And here they are again, ready for another rematch.

The magnitude of the moment is setting in.  No, it isn’t a championship game or even one on which the league standings hung.  It is just two great players, two iconic players, playing in the best arena in the world.  And here I am to watch.  I’m 21 years old and I don’t see how my life can get any better.

It’s gametime.  The crowd goes nuts as the lights go down and the starting lineups for each team are announced.  Everyone knows how big this game is.  The players take their positions.  The clock shows 12 minutes.  Tipoff.

The game is underway.  Still in shock of what I am witnessing, I have to remind myself to breathe.  The energy in the arena is overwhelming and I’m being consumed by it.   And it’s the best feeling in the world.

The first half is a blur.  It seems as though retirement has done nothing to slow down Michael Jordan.  He may have lost some of the height on his jumps and some of his signature grace, but he is still Michael.  Still amazing.

During halftime, my buddies and I talk about the game.  About Jordan and Ewing.  About bad calls by the referees and dirty plays by the players.   About what to do after the game.  But mostly, I am making a point to take a mental picture.  This is a moment that I want to remember.  This is a moment that I will never have again.  As a 21-year-old sports enthusiast, this is a defining moment in my life.

No time for sentimental moments, the second half is about to start.  There’s no way Jordan can have the same type of performance in this half that he had in the first.  He’s old.  He’s going to give out soon.

Not quite.  As though he was back in his 20s and had been training for years, Michael Jordan continues his dominant performance.  It remains a close game, but we just don’t have an answer for Jordan.  He’s unstoppable.

Layup here.  Three-pointer there.  The occasional Jordan-esque dunk.  Boy, is this a treat to watch.  With time winding down, I am hoping for overtime.   Not because I don’t want to Knicks to crush the Bulls, but because I want the game to continue.  Anything I can do to watch just a few more minutes of the action.

But the game doesn’t go into overtime.  No, on the last play of the game, Jordan sets up a play for a dunk by Bill Wennington.  The buzzer sounds.  113-111.  The Bulls over the Knicks.

Of course I’m disappointed that the Knicks lost, but I’m more excited than upset.  Excited because I know that I just witnessed one of the most amazing basketball games by one of the best players in history.  Jordan scored 55 points, almost half of the points that his entire team scored.  This performance was coined the “double nickel” and I knew instantly that I had witnessed a game that would go down in history. 

Sure, I’m a die-hard Knicks fan, but there’s just something about watching Michael Jordan play.   Seeing this game made me appreciate the sport for more than the competition.  To me, it’s an art.  I can appreciate Michael Jordan for the artist that he is.

I went into MSG hoping to see a good game that ended with a Knicks victory.  I left with a new outlook on the sport and the competition.  What makes the sport great is the players.  Regardless of what jersey they wear and who they are paid by, the athletes keep me coming back.

“More than anything, what Madison Square Garden means to me is the highest caliber of athlete playing at the highest level of competition.  There’s something really magical about seeing the best of the best compete.  There’s a feeling that comes with Madison Square Garden and it’s bigger than the game.”


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