Sunday, January 4, 2015

Iowa Energy 104 at Westchester Knicks 108 (NBA D-League) - January 3, 2015


With the NFL playoffs starting at 4:30 pm on Saturday, I had an afternoon free, and what better way to start the year off than checking out the newest team in the New York area? The Westchester Knicks began play in the NBA D-League this season, operating out of the Westchester County Center in White Plains, about 30 miles north of the city. The club is owned by the New York Knicks, another sign that the D-League is slowly becoming a true minor league. There are now 18 franchises across the country, with all but one owned by or singly affiliated with an NBA team (the defending champion Fort Wayne Mad Antz are the exception). Furthermore, at the end of last season, a third of NBA players had spent time in the D-League. True, few of those with experience in the minors are really stars, but that shouldn't stop you from visiting any D-League game and seeing a future NBA benchwarmer.



Westchester County Center



Opened in 1930, the Westchester County Center's Art Deco design is not one that you see often in a sports venue. Check out the lobby below, pretty fancy stuff. The WCC was renovated in 1988 and it is still in very good condition. If you are taking transit, Metro North Railroad stops at White Plains, which is just five minutes away on foot. A round-trip, off-peak ticket is $17. There are other options, but this is the easiest for those without a car.



The WCC is actually mostly used as a concert hall and the circus comes to town every year, but it is still well suited to basketball. The court is surrounded on three sides with a balcony, 6 or 7 rows in each section. The first row here is the best place to sit, especially behind the net, where you are almost on top of the court.



Tickets start at $10 and given how small the place is (just 5,000 seats), there is not much reason to spend more, though $25 will get you a seat at mid-court in the balcony.



There are lower level seats along the left side of the court, but these are just folding chairs and the last couple of rows are partially obstructed by the upper deck, as you can see above. At $35, these are not worth the extra money. As this is more of a cultural venue, the balcony seats are plush and quite comfortable (below), and provide a better view as well for less money.



There are some VIP seats such as the semi-circular tables below, as well as courtside seats just in front of them. Tickets here range from $80 to $124 should you be interested. Note that TicketMaster charges add at least 10% to these prices, so many fans show up and buy their tickets at the box office, which leads to a long line just before tip off. I found a gentleman with a few extras who sold me one quite cheaply, thus allowing me to avoid the line.



A few more shots from various angles:











Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs offers a fast-food menu at very reasonable prices, though much of it is pre-cooked. The bacon cheeseburger I tried was not appealing at all. Try one of the chicken options instead.

Overall, I was very impressed with the job the Knicks have done in turning the Westchester County Center into a top-notch minor league basketball venue. The people who run the game day operations are from Madison Square Garden (they interviewed me for the big screen due to my affiliation with Stadium Journey) and it is very professionally done without the hype that dominates pro sports these days. It is a great family atmosphere and I saw mostly parents with their children in attendance, all having a good time. If you like basketball and are in New York, consider a trip to White Plains to see the Knicks. Even with the cost of public transportation, it will be cheaper than seeing the woeful parent club at MSG, and far more entertaining too.

The Game

The Iowa Energy (affiliated with the Vancouver Memphis Grizzlies) were in town to start a three-game road trip. Both teams were in last place in their respective divisions with just six wins (the Knicks had played 18 games to Iowa's 14). The most recognizable names were Iowa's Damien Wilkins (son of Gerald), who has played several seasons in the NBA and Westchester's Thanasis
Antetokounmpo (#43 below), whose brother Giannis plays for the Milwaukee Bucks.



The Knicks got out to a 13-6 lead early but Iowa fought back and had an 8-point advantage at 42-34 midway through the second frame. Westchester used 9 points from Darnell Jackson (#45 above) to storm back and the game went to halftime knotted at 51.



Iowa started the third quarter on an 8-0 run, but again the Knicks battled back, with recent trade acquisition Ron Anderson (#34 above) making a jump shot to tie the game at 70 late in the period. From there, the Knicks went on an 11-7 run to enter the fourth up 81-77.



When Westchester's Todd Mayo (half-brother of O.J., also with the Bucks) sank a couple of free throws (his only points of the game) to make it 85-77, the Knicks looked in control, but this time the visitors came back, tying the game at 94 with 3:20 to go.



Then Langston Galloway (#11 above) took over, draining a jumper and two treys as Westchester went up 104-96 with 30 seconds left. The rest of the game saw Iowa fouling in a vain effort to get back in it, but they came up short, losing 108-104.



This was a fun contest, with a few lead changes and hot shooting by both teams. The difference was at the charity stripe: Iowa was whistled for 28 fouls, leading to 37 Westchester free throws (they made 30), while the Energy only enjoyed 15 attempts (missing just two) on 14 Knick fouls.

Notes

This was my 520th venue and 5th in the D-League, all of which have been enjoyable experiences. I hope to visit more of these franchises, but their odd locations (Maine, Delaware, Canton etc.) and sparse schedule will make it difficult as long as I am working.

Galloway played collegiate ball at St. Joseph's, and coincidentally I saw him play on the first Saturday of 2014. Three days later, after the Knicks traded J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, Galloway was called up and made his NBA in Washington, scoring 7 points off the bench in a 101-91 loss.

Next Up

I'm going crazy for college hoops in the next two months. There are at least 12 schools in the NY area at which I've yet to see a game, and as 2015 will be about me visiting new venues, I'm going to try to see 10 of them by season's end. That starts with a trip to LIU Brooklyn on Monday as the Blackbirds host the Knights of Fairleigh Dickinson. Check back for a recap of that one.

Best,

Sean

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