When the theme song “Welcome Back” began playing over the public-address system, they sprouted from their Garden seats in anticipation of a rare open practice, which included a scrimmage game.
“It’s nice to finally have my Knicks back, and the N.B.A. season as well,” said Lenny Green, a 42-year-old construction worker from Harlem, who was admitted free, along with everyone else.
“I’m not going to hold the lockout against the Knicks or the league,” Green said. “Hey, business is business; now let’s play some ball.”
Soon after, the Knicks were jogging onto the court, past and beneath spotlights. A disc jockey stopped spinning records when grabbed a microphone.
“We’re proud to bring back the basketball season,” Anthony told the screaming fans, “but we can’t go without our sixth man — let’s go, New York!”
With Walt Frazier providing live commentary from courtside, the Knicks went through stretching exercises and ball drills before choosing sides for what was billed as their Blue and Orange Scrimmage.
Coach Mike D’Antoni gave the fans a preview of his likely starting five against the visiting Boston Celtics in the season opener next Sunday. D’Antoni sent the imposing front line of Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler to one side of the floor, along with guards Mike Bibby and Toney Douglas. The swingman Landry Fields was used as the sixth man.
When Anthony drained the first shot of the scrimmage, a long fallaway 3-pointer from the left side, the Garden crowd was on its feet again. The decibel level rose higher after a Stoudemire dunk, and even higher when , went high to block a shot.
“They’re looking pretty good out there,” said Dominique James, a 29-year-old homemaker from the Inwood section of Manhattan who went to the scrimmage with her 5-year-old son, Tyler.
“This open practice was a great idea,” James said. “It’s given us all a chance to see the new Garden, which looks bigger and brighter to me. Come to think of it, so do the Knicks.”
When the scrimmage ended, another Knick grabbed the microphone.
“Hope you guys enjoyed it,” Stoudemire said. “We bring it hard every day in practice. We’re trying to win a championship here.”
Throughout the afternoon, Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler were showered with thunderous ovations, as was the rookie shooting guard . Fans were clearly acknowledging Shumpert’s 16-point performance in on Saturday. (The teams meet again in Wednesday night’s final preseason game at the Garden.)
After the scrimmage, Chandler, who helped the before joining the Knicks in a sign-and-trade deal, soaked his feet in a cooler of ice in the Knicks’ newly refurbished locker room and reflected on his first visit to the Garden in a Knicks uniform.
“Oh, man,” Chandler said, his feet starting to splash in the ice, “just coming into the Garden — first of all, I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to come here in a Knicks uniform. And then to be able to walk on the floor and hearing the fans’ response, it just makes me want to work that much harder and help elevate this team to really where I think it could go.”
Chandler said he had “never been a part of a practice like this, with this kind of energy.” He was then asked if the Knicks — who whose father, Henry, helped the Knicks win their last title, in 1973 — have what it takes to win a championship.
“You know, I feel it does,” Chandler said. “I hate to put that kind of expectation this early in the season on this team, but if you just go off of feelings and the kind of personnel we have on this team, my answer would be yes.
“But it’s going to take an entire season’s commitment, including playoffs, if we want to be champions.”
Anthony acknowledged the fans again after the scrimmage, saying their support will be a key to the Knicks’ success.
“We got a new building and we got a new team, and our fans are really excited and louder than ever, and that brings a lot of energy,” said Anthony, who noted that the to help Frazier and the Knicks win their first championship, in 1970, has now been replaced by seats, moving the fans even closer to the action.
“The court is still the same length, the basket the same height, but the fans, they’re screaming right on top of you now; you can hear everything they’re saying to you,” Anthony said, breaking into a wide grin. “That’s a good thing — well, most of the time, anyway.”