Wednesday, Nov. 2, 8 p.m., Rucker Park, 155th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, Harlem:
Right now, opening night tip-off should be happening downtown at Madison Square Garden, with the New York Knicks hosting the Miami Heat. And Michael Jennings, 18, should be hosting his friends to watch the game at his apartment. But with the National Basketball Association in a labor lockout and the season canceled through November, Jennings and eight other young men are playing hoops at Rucker Park, one of the most storied streetball courts in the world.
“Life is going to be boring without basketball,” says Jennings, his gold Nikes glinting as he takes a brief break on the bleachers. And it’s especially rough tonight. “Every year opening night we throw a party,” Jennings says.
Although this is New York City, not everyone here is a Knicks fan. Jennings says if the game had been played tonight, his team, Miami, would’ve won by 15. But his buddy Dante Hodge disagrees. The Knicks, says Hodge, “would’ve blown them out.”
8:30 p.m., Harlem Tavern, 301 W. 116th St., Harlem:
Now it should be the second quarter, with LeBron James and Amare Stoudemire trying to rip the rim off its hinges. And Harlem Tavern owner Gareth Fagan should be passing out nonstop draughts to die-hard Knicks fans, hoping this is finally their year.
But the fans are locked out with Miami’s James and New York’s Stoudemire, both waiting for a collective bargaining agreement with the NBA owners. And Fagan’s got the bar’s nine TV screens tuned to Major League Soccer and hockey, though no one seems to care.
“The World Series is over, football is only on Sunday, Monday nights. You really feel the void,” says Fagan.
This swanky new tavern isn’t empty. But the 60 here tonight is a far cry from the capacity crowd Fagan had expected for the Knicks’ 2011 debut.
The lockout, Fagan grumbles, is “rich people arguing with richer people.” He sides with the players. But his biggest hope is just that they all figure out a deal, and soon.
9 p.m., Wagner Houses, East Harlem:
It should be halftime of a high-scoring, entertaining Knicks-Heat game. And Michael Parker should be predicting the final score with his students at Youthbuild East Harlem, an alternative education program.
Instead, Parker is home watching MSG Network replays of the 1994 Knicks team led by Patrick Ewing and John Starks. Back then, he says, “money was not an object and people just played for the game.”
Parker calls himself a “huge” NBA and Knicks fan, but he’s pretty disgusted by the lockout. “I play the sport for free,” he says, “and you guys are arguing over an amount of millions.”
The former high school standout says it’s not just fans who get hurt. Parker had friends who used to work the concession stands at Madison Square Garden. “Low-income people are unemployed, too,” he says.
9:45 p.m., Village Pourhouse, 982 Amsterdam Ave., Morningside Heights:
It should be the end of the third, with fans making a dash for the restrooms before hunkering down for crunch time. And Wednesday’s trivia night at the Pourhouse should be on hold, with emcee Zak Kamin waiting for breaks in play before he can ask the next question.
But the sports bar’s customers can go to the bathroom whenever they want, without missing a second of the game that is not being played. And Kamin can fire obscure questions as rapidly as he pleases. (What Robin Williams film featured a title character with Progeria? Answer: “Jack.”)
Though Kamin doesn’t usually follow basketball closely, he’s bummed by the lockout. Last season is widely regarded as one of the best years in a decade for the entire NBA. But now, the league’s momentum has screeched to a halt.
“I was watching the finals to watch LeBron lose,” Kamin says, echoing the thoughts of many casual fans who tuned in just to root against the controversial Heat superstar. “But I was watching the finals.”
10:30 p.m., Lion’s Head Tavern, 995 Amsterdam Ave., Morningside Heights:
It should be over by now, the players heading for their first postgame showers, with 81 more to go. And J.J. Zaza should be working furiously behind the Lion’s Head bar to satisfy the full house, eager to count hundreds of dollars in tips from NBA fans.
Instead, Zaza has little trouble keeping up with orders from tonight’s relatively sparse crowd.
The lockout is “costing me personally and this bar a ton of money,” says Zaza, a nine-year veteran of Lion’s Head. If the season had opened on time, “This place would be totally packed right now.”
Zaza grew up a die-hard Knicks fan in Long Island and has been a season ticket holder for a while. He might not have been at the game tonight, but he was pumped to get back in the Garden’s stands this year. “I had more expectations for the Knicks this year than the past 10,” he said. “It’s horrible. It’s the worst.”
As far as who or what is at fault for the lockout, Zaza doesn’t hesitate. “Greed, on both sides,” he says.