The doors at Madison Square Garden finally will open to fans Tuesday when the Knicks host Golden State, the first time they will perform before the hometown fans since March 8, 2020.
So what will the crowd — albeit a small fraction of what the venerable arena usually holds — find upon entrance? Not just the small pods of fans that will leave the arena 90% empty, but what about on the court?
These are not the Knicks you remember from the day the doors closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The faces may be familiar, because the starting lineup on most nights consists of players who were part of the 21-45 season that ended just days after that last game at MSG. Only Mitchell Robinson’s fractured right hand keeps it from being a complete throwback to last season’s roster.
But led by coach Tom Thibodeau, this 15-16 team has a chance to reach .500 if it can live up to the expectations of the approximately 2,000 fans who will be cleared through the gates.
"We’re all looking forward to the fans coming back," Thibodeau said. "Even though it won’t be to capacity, it’s a start, it’s a beginning. It gives us a baseline. We know how important our fans are to our organization, the city, to the league. It’s our lifeline. We’re looking forward to that. Hopefully somewhere down the road we can get back to being somewhat normal. I think the league has done a great job all along. It’s been planned out. They have the medical people involved. They’re using science. They’re taking every safety precaution that they can.
"It’s state by state. I know just being in Orlando and having fans there, it feels a lot better and obviously, I think it’s important to the league. But safety has to come first. I think they’ve moved very slowly on this and I think that’s the right move. The safety of everyone is the most important thing right now."
Before fans get in, they will need to complete a three-step health screening, including presenting confirmation of a negative PCR COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the day of the game. They also will need to complete a health survey and pass a temperature checkupon entry.
Fans will be required to wear a face mask except while actively eating or drinking, which will be permitted only in their assigned seats. Attendees will need to download the MSG Venue App to access digital tickets.
The game sold out quickly, even if it might not feel like that with much of the arena empty and the fans scattered throughout all levels.
"Madison Square Garden, it’s a legendary arena to play in," rookie Immanuel Quickley said. "Even with the fake noises, it kind of sounds like the way it sounds when I watch it on TV. It’s definitely a buzz even without fans. So I’m sure with fans, it’s going to be even more lively. So I’m excited to get the fans back in the building."
Notes & quotes: Golden State coach Steve Kerr said Steph Curry participated fully in practice — with Curry even popping in briefly in Kerr’s media Zoom call — and it is expected that he will be available after sitting out the previous game in Charlotte because of illness.