A look at how Spike Lee is handling another fruitless year of Knicks basketball, as the famed director is a fixture of the Madison Square Garden courtside.
Spike Lee’s film career is legendary, but his résumé as a New York Knicks fan is arguably just as impressive (fine, maybe not). With Lee’s latest joint, Da 5 Bloods, out on Netflix, let’s pay homage to the Oscar winner’s run as an unapologetic and tragically loyal supporter of his beloved Knicks, and recognize a few other celebrities who rep the franchise.
Spike Lee made his feature-film debut in 1986 with She’s Gotta Have It, and he’s been a prolific mainstay in cinema ever since. He made his season-ticket debut at Madison Square Garden in 1985 and has been ubiquitous in that role, too.
Lee’s fandom dates back to 1960’s Brooklyn. As a 13-year-old, he attended Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. “It was a memory I will never forget. Willis Reed coming back and the Garden went nuts. It was a very special moment in Knicks history,” Lee said after, fittingly, purchasing the net from the game.
Lee bought cheap tickets for MSG’s “Blue Heaven” section and was hooked for life by the teamwork and style of the ‘70s squads. When the Nets moved into his neighborhood in 2012, he never considered changing allegiances. “I wish I had a dollar for every time people ask me that,” Lee said about rooting for Brooklyn. “I could finance another film. No, no and no…I am orange and blue.”
Lee has spent upwards of $10 million on his seats over the 35 years. Despite the subpar ROI this century, the team did reward him with a winning product for the first half of that span. Plus, Lee has been courtside—and often involved in—nearly every notable MSG hoops moment. An incalculable greatest hits:
- In Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, he was largely blamed for goading Reggie Miller into 25 fourth-quarter points and a cold-blooded choking gesture. One year later, Miller threw daggers at Lee after splashing eight points in nine seconds to steal Game 1 of the conference semi-finals.
- Lee, who allegedly coined the “double-nickel” label for Michael Jordan’s 55-point game, was on the receiving end of both Scottie Pippen’s taunting after his vicious poster on Patrick Ewing, and Jordan’s “Bye-Bye” wave in Game 5 of the ‘96 conference semis.
- Lee egged on Kobe Bryant during his 61-point clinic, prompting Bryant to return the smack talk in a voice-over session for Kobe Doin’ Work. “It was at the Garden so you got Spike on the side talking s–t…I’m thinking, damn, just leave him alone” Wilson Chandler recalled.
- He provided chalkboard material for LeBron James in 2010, telling the Daily News that “We’re gonna kick LeBron’s ass.” James dropped 32 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists in a 113-91 Heat win. Lee’s chirping at James didn’t work in the 2012 first-round playoff series, either. The director has gotten into it with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and so many others.
Whether Lee actually deserves blame for motivating opponents or not, his meddling displays his admirable commitment to his role as a front-row heckler. Do your part! Lee’s movies are so hard-hitting because of their confrontational nature, and I’d expect nothing less of his courtside persona. Considering the dearth of exciting moments the Knicks have offered in recent years, great performances from visiting stars and their interactions with Lee have provided welcome entertainment.
Lee overtly embodies the archetypical New York fan: fiercely loyal, often overconfident, and unsparingly critical. He’ll show up to every game, but loudly voice his displeasure about it in front of the entire city. At the end of the day, though, regardless of the roster, Lee remains a believer. “You gotta play the game…you support your team,” Lee explained on Power 106 LA.
Lee’s devotion is commendable, and his loyalty seemed utterly unflappable. That’s what makes February’s beef over entrances with James Dolan genuinely alarming: Lee publicly (and justifiably) halted his loyalty. Lee has always been critical, but to call the Knicks “the laughingstock of the league” and declare he was “done with the Knicks this season” on national television cut deep.
In his most recent appearance on First Take, this Thursday, Lee compared Dolan’s non-comments on the George Floyd protests and the team’s belated and vague statement on equality to President Donald Trump’s “both sides” comments after the Charlottesville riots. “To me that’s the same thing, that’s the same mentality,” Lee remarked.
The Knicks want stars to be a part of their allure. “If you’re an A-level person…then there’s a value having you there,” said MSG VP Barry Watkins. “We think it’s a big part of the brand. Win or lose, it’s one of the reasons people come to the games.” If that’s the case, Lee isn’t feeling it at the moment.
Hopefully the Knicks show Lee the proper respect and he’s back chirping from his usual seat (whenever fans are allowed in arenas) for years to come. However, if he does scale back his attendance like Jack Nicholson in L.A.—either out of outrage, lost patience, or because has better things to do—there is no shortage of stars to show on the Jumbotron. Of course, nobody can come within lightyears of filling Mars Blackmon’s shoes, but there are a few loyal celebrities to whom Lee could pass, if not the torch, then at least a flickering candle. Another incomplete rundown, in no particular order:
- Saturday Night Live’s Pete Davidson has been spotted multiple times at the Garden alongside (or locking lips with) a fellow celeb. The Staten Island “King” is easily funny, could bring tabloid fodder, and, at 26, has plenty of time to grow into the role.
- Jon Stewart is a longtime Garden regular who has already shown a Spike-like quality to vent on ESPN and produce memes while sitting courtside.
- Another elite comedian, Chris Rock, has a history of trying to mess with players while sitting courtside—to no avail. He goes to games relatively frequently, and shares Lee’s hopefulness and knowledge of the team. As a bonus, he has a unique ability to roast opponents with his eyeballs.
- John McEnroe, 61, has been one of the most committed Knicks celebrity fans for decades. He brings plenty of experience colorfully yelling on a court, and won’t hesitate to voice his criticisms. At this point, the tennis icon from Queens is grandfathered in as a Hall of Fame Knicks fan.
- Ben Stiller is more low-key on the sidelines then White Goodman or Derek Zoolander would be, but he’s a born-and-bred Manhattanite and lifelong stan. In 2019, he told Bill Simmons he attends about three games per season nowadays, so he’ll have to bump up those rookie numbers. Unfortunately, Stiller sounds a little dejected about the franchise at the moment. “Being a Knick fan my whole life, it’s been very painful…It’s just hard being a Knicks fan,” he lamented to Enes Kanter. (While we’re talking Reality Bites cast, Free Ethan Hawke!)
- Desus and Mero, in fact, are prime candidates to fulfill Lee’s role as quotable, enthusiastic Knicks promoters (and recruiters). The Bodega Boys have built part of their strong brand on their devout ambassadorship for New York sports. Plus, Desus evidently understands the experience of being a Knicks fan as well as anyone. “Nothing matters in a Knick game until the fourth quarter. They could have a 30-point lead. They’re gonna lose it,” he described to Sports Illustrated. “If you’re a real Knicks fan, you can turn it on in the last two minutes…It’s gonna be 10 minutes long because the Knicks are going to be right there. They’re gonna be down by nine and they’re gonna hit a couple threes in a row, miss a free throw, foul the next guy, tit for tat. But, it’s lit.”
- Entourage and Power actor (and friend of The Knicks Wall pod) Jerry Ferrara considers himself amongst the biggest Knicks fans around, and even scouted for their esports team. His investment is unquestioned, but he may not quite possess the Vinny Chase–level star power to get the lead role as celebrity Knicks fan no. 1.
- Action Bronson is a proud and outspoken Knicks fan who has experience wetting jumpers on the Garden floor. The Flushing native also brings a catalog of Knicks-related lyrics. Bronson is the type of goofy and uniquely recognizable person that makes him an amusing courtside presence. Considering his various globetrotting projects, though, it’s hard to envision him attending games on a Spike-like regularity. And he has to be the only rapper to rhyme calamari with Gallinari. A few other favorites:
“Same night Chris Childs punched Kobe / It was a Sunday, I had the Hyundai” – “Knicks (Remix)“
“The Derek Harper with the low Caesar” – “Cocoa Butter“
“Charles Oakley, gecko belts and durangos” – “103 and Roosy“
- Shout out to a few others candidates: Tracy Morgan, Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz, Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudeikis, Drew Barrymore, Howard Stern, and Mike D
Lee is one of a kind, and nobody else, regardless of Q-rating, can replicate his combination of cultural resonance, consistent attendance, impassioned loyalty, willingness to always rep the colors, and connections to signature Garden moments.
Fortunately, Lee doesn’t seem to be completely abandoning his investment, despite the shortcomings from ownership. When asked on First Take how difficult it has become to root for the Knicks as a black man, Lee reiterated that his fandom pre-dates the Dolan family. “I grew up with Willis Reed. I was at Game 7, March 8, 1970…My love for the orange and blue overrides everything else.”
Veterans typically don’t love a rebuild, but Lee seems hopeful about the future. He voiced his approval of the team’s 2018 tanking effort before winning his Academy Award, and he was at the 2019 draft to welcome R.J. Barrett aboard.
“I just hope I’m able to see another banner raised to the world’s most famous arena’s roof.” Spike told the New York Times in May. “If it’s not me, it better happen with my son, who’s 25.”
If Lee is able to see the Knicks win another title, he should get a ring. Either way, he should see a banner raised for himself at the Garden.