NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — It was a huge a weekend for New York sports fans as several stadiums and arenas expanded their capacity for fully vaccinated fans.
Things didn’t go as planned for the Knicks in their playoff opener against the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday, but despite the gut-wrenching 107-105 defeat, fans were thrilled to be back in Madison Square Garden for postseason basketball, CBS2’s Kiran Dhillon reported.
The atmosphere was electric in the building, the excitement palpable. Fans listed two main reasons they were happy to be back inside the Garden. First and foremost was the opportunity to see the Knicks in the playoffs for the first time since 2013. The other? Sunday’s game marked the first time many of them had been back in the arena in more than a year.
Instead of social distancing, thrilled fans were all about celebrating and connecting. In all, 15,000 fans showed up for the first Knicks playoff game in eight years. They were so eager, the series opener sold out in less than two days.
“I got the Knicks in four! Knicks in four!,” Mario Martinez of Washington Heights said before tip-off.
“It’s just like the team. Us fans deserve this,” another fan said.
“We’re excited and ready to go!” another said.
Their excitement was so infectious, one would never have guessed that Sunday’s game was the largest indoor gathering in the state since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I am so exited, OK! And not even because of the COVID stuff, but the Knicks have not been run the best for a while and now they’re finally getting on track,” said Zack Hescheles of Long Island.
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Part of the reason for the Garden having so many fans inside was because 90% of them were fully vaccinated, according to the team.
With their vaccine cards in hands, most had no worries when it came to COVID-19.
“We trust the vaccine, so we’re ready for some playoff basketball,” said Alex Telson of New Jersey.
“The city took the precautions they needed to take and we’re here. We feel safe,” another fan said.
Lia Lewitt said she drove two hours from Connecticut to see the Knicks. Nothing was going to stop her for repping her team.
“I paid $250 to get on a list to have access to buy the tickets, $225 to get my tickets. I paid another $60 for lunch, $50 to park, $80 for gas. I’m here!” Levitt said.
The Knicks are just one of many sports teams in the state that have big changes due to softening COVID restrictions.
At MSG, there are now vaccinated seating sections at full capacity where there is no more social distancing or masks as long as fans can prove they are fully vaccinated.
Children, like Hunter Link, are also allowed in those areas as long as they have proof of a negative PCR test with them.
“We have a negative PCR test and we will leave our mask on,” father Doug Link said.
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And while most of the fans were confident the new requirements would keep them safe, there were some that were a bit nervous.
“There’s 15,000 people. It’s a little scary. I know I should be fine and I’ll probably be fine, but it’s like, you know, getting used to it again,” Hescheles said.
Still, even with the nerves, the pandemic wasn’t going to put a damper on these spirits.
“I am feeling wonderful. New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks. I’ve waited eight years for this. Eight years and I’m finally here,” Martinez said.
Game 2 is set for Wednesday night at MSG. It is also sold out, and there’s little doubt those in attendance will be ready for a party.
CBS2’s Kiran Dhillon contributed to this report