As the Knicks drift slowly back into the tank, fans need to find other events to keep them occupied.
For the past two decades, Madison Square Garden’s mostly been a vacant lot full of errant litter. Sure, the Knicks have played better during Mike Miller’s stint behind the wheel. But the bar he raised was at ground level and history says things will go back south soon.
Fortunately for Knicks fans, their home venue brings in a plethora of other acts and events to distract from what can be a depressing team to follow. Over this past weekend, the toughest eight seconds in sports took over the world’s most famous arena. Of course, I’m talking about Professional Bull Riding.
The three-day, Buck Off at the Garden event brought in the top 35 riders and the best bulls in the world to the middle of Manhattan to launch the 2020 PBR season.
I had little clue what to expect since this was, in fact, my first rodeo. As soon as you step out of the subway, you’re greeted by a line of cattle trailers parked down West 33rd Street and an aisle of animal cruelty protesters along 7th Avenue. Though the latter’s not an uncommon sight. Knicks fans have openly protested James Dolan to sell the team for years.
Once inside, you fall into a sea of 10-gallon hats and cowboy boots. It makes it easy to forget where you are or even what state you’re in.
The corridors behind where the Knicks and Rangers usually compete are filled with holding pens, ranch hands and tracks of dirt four-inches thick. Swapping out the hardwood for a rink of fresh ice on Rangers game nights is still amazing to consider. Seeing that same area covered by a pitch of mud and steel rigging is crazier still.
While the transformation is certainly disorienting for a New Yorker, it’s equally awe-striking for the riders stepping into the mystique of MSG.
Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images
“The energy here is ridiculous,” Mason Taylor said moments after his ride on Saturday. “I honestly don’t believe we get to do what we love to in this building. It’s surreal. Muhammad Ali fought here so I knew I had to step up. I just keep it simple. You can’t have no quit or be weak-hearted. You need to be mentally tough. I felt great tonight.”
Amid the mounting losses and running Twitter jokes it’s easy to become cynical and forget the multitudes of incredible history this building contains. Sometimes it takes a literal cowboy to reminds you why it’s more than just a basketball arena and why it would mean so much if the team that called it home was successful.
After a few hours of watching 2,000-pound beasts violently buck and gyrate and sometimes jump eight feet straight into the air, you wonder how anyone could do this more than once and live to tell about it. Though with names like Stetson and Dakota, some people are just preordained to ride bulls.
The event culminated with the 35-year-old Brazilian veteran, João Ricardo Vieira, putting up the top score and taking home the $100,000 check.
“It’s a lot of points here and a lot of money,” Vieira said. “Winning feels amazing. And it’s cool to be the man to put my name on the new (Charging Bull) trophy.”
In the end, the Knicks didn’t lose, and that was nice.