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'It's where I need to be': Knicks fans return to Madison Square Garden

Elfrid Payton of the New York Knicks, which is welcoming back fans to Madison Square Garden for the first time in almost a year - Jared C. Tilton / ©AFP
Elfrid Payton of the New York Knicks, which is welcoming back fans to Madison Square Garden for the first time in almost a year - Jared C. Tilton / ©AFP

(AFP)

New York Knicks superfan Anthony Donahue will make an emotional return to Madison Square Garden on Tuesday when the NBA side plays in front of home fans for the first time in almost a year.

Donahue will be one of 2,000 supporters cheering the Knicks on against Golden State Warriors, 352 days since spectators were last allowed into the iconic venue before the pandemic shutdown.

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“The Garden is more than just an arena. It’s life for a lot of us,” said Donahue, who has barely missed a Knicks game since going to his first aged 10 in the mid-1990s.

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo earlier this month paved the way for the Knicks to welcome back supporters when he announced that he would allow stadiums to open at ten percent capacity.

The Brooklyn Nets will also play in front of fans on Tuesday night when they take on the Sacramento Kings at the Barclays Center. 

“I’m excited. I’m anxious. I’m nervous,” the 37-year-old Donahue told AFP ahead of the return to his spiritual home.

Donahue is in particularly buoyant mood with his beloved Knicks in the running for a play-off place for the first time in several seasons.  

But his joy at getting back inside MSG will be tinged with sadness and pain after the death of his 21-year-old sister Gianna Gregoire from brain cancer in August.

Gregoire, also a hardcore Knicks fan, would go to about ten or 15 games a season with her brother.

“I’m gonna miss her presence of not being there. But I know she’s there with me spiritually and will guide me through tonight,” said Donahue.

“It’s gonna be a night full of a lot of emotion, probably some tears, a lot of happiness, a lot of joy. But I know it’s where I need to be.”

– Tattoo –

Donahue said it had been “horrible” to have been locked out of the Knicks’ arena over the past year while enduring such tragedy.

“The Garden is my outlet over the years. Even if the Knicks aren’t winning, life is always great when you’re at the Garden. So to go through so much in my personal life and not be able to go back to the Garden has been awful,” he told AFP.

As a season ticket holder for around two decades, Donahue got priority for the highly sought-after tickets which are selling on the secondary market for as high as $5,127, according to TicketIQ.com.

He is attending with a close friend and plans to arrive three hours before the 7:30 pm (0030 GMT Wednesday) tip-off, in part to make sure his health declaration and negative Covid test are in order.

“I don’t know what to expect. But I also gotta take everything in. I have to breathe the Garden air,” he explained.

Donahue has a Knicks tattoo on his left leg and wears a Knicks chain around his neck. On Twitter and Instagram, he describes himself as the “biggest Knicks fan in the world.”

“The Knicks are my life. The Knicks and my sister, that’s truly all I’ve ever really cared about the last 20 years,” he said.

Peter HUTCHISON

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