By Larry Gordon
I’ve written one of these last year and it evoked quite an interesting and positive response from readers, so here we go again. So far it is has been a horrible year for New York sports fans. Can you imagine aficionados of New York sports biding their precious time waiting for spring training to start? (Pitchers and catchers report next week.) Can you believe that for the Mets to be playing ball would be a relief to New York sports fans?
There is a lot of ground to cover in sports news, and while we don’t do enough of it—or any, for that matter—here, there is definitely a great deal to write about. So first things first. There are three glatt kosher food stands at the Barclays Center arena where the New York Nets play on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. I was there twice in the last few weeks and I am impressed with how that once downtrodden and forgotten neighborhood has been revitalized.
Why go to Barclays to see the mostly uninteresting Nets play? Well, if you reside in Brooklyn or even in the Five Towns, it’s an easy ride by car without too much traffic and plenty of reasonably priced parking just a block or two away from the arena. This is the Nets’ second season in Brooklyn after moving over from New Jersey, and it looks like it was a pretty good and successful move. By the way, my sons, who are really big sports fans, tell me that the Islanders hockey team is moving to Barclays for next season. Are they still going to be called Islanders even as they abandon the Nassau Coliseum? (I hear they plan on initially being called the Brooklyn Islanders.)
Okay, back to Brooklyn. Two of the stands/restaurants at Barclays are not branded with any famous name. One is called “King David,” and the other, “GK,” which I am assuming simply means Glatt Kosher unless those happen to be the initials of the person who own it.
But up one level on the escalator is the popular and somewhat famous Abigael’s (which also features a fairly good restaurant in Manhattan), and while we are not big fans of stadium or arena food (perhaps due to the kashrus limitations), Barclays has opened our eyes and our mouths, in a manner of speaking. In my estimation it has to be because of the close proximity to so many frum neighborhoods, but Barclays on game night is hopping with frum men and women who seem to really be enjoying themselves.
Here’s the sports part. In one week, I saw the Nets defeat the Atlanta Hawks. It was a good game but the Nets led just about throughout. A few nights later, I saw them stun the Golden State Warriors, led by Steph Curry, in a squeaker where they held their own and came out on top after a tough and gritty game. And there are Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, two pretty good ballplayers who did their best work with the Boston Celtics before going into semi-retirement on the Nets.
Frankly, I never thought I could tolerate or have the patience for the Nets, no matter who they were playing against, but I have to admit, to the chagrin of my sons, that I am starting to like that team. These circumstances need to be respectfully combined with the surprisingly awful season the Knicks are having. Every time I think they are about to turn the corner and put a ten-game winning streak together (okay, a five-game winning streak), they get slapped back down. Like that game last week against the even more hapless Milwaukee Bucks at the Garden. I mean, what is going on with that? Are you telling me that all those multimillionaire ballplayers could not get motivated for that game?
So even though Raymond Felton is one of the best ball dribblers in the NBA, I just can’t get over the fact that once he gets to the top of the circle he usually has no idea what to do with the ball, that is unless he sees a clear path to pass it to the often double-teamed Carmelo Anthony.
And as long as we are on the subject of these luckless and ill-fated Knicks, what is the point of passing the ball to Tyson Chandler, also at the top of the circle, when he has no ability to do anything with the ball from that position except pass it to someone else who does not know what to do with it? And another thing—what is with JR Smith holding on to the ball until there are 5 seconds left on the 24-second clock?
When the Knicks are ahead with like eight or nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter, I point out to my kids that the Knicks are already trying to run out the clock with all that time left—which is somewhere between absurd and ridiculous. Instead of trying to preserve a tenuous lead with so much time left, how about playing the game and scoring?
So I’ve developed this affinity for Barclays rather than the Garden primarily because of convenience. Barclays is spanking brand new, and on those nights that I was there it would have been difficult to convince me that there was not some kind of a yeshiva outing taking place. A few times I was certain that there was going to be a minyan for Ma’ariv forming on that second floor of the arena near Abigael’s. But it seems that it still gets dark early enough these days for everyone to daven before arriving at the arena.
Then there was something else that I observed recently at Barclays. Even though the game is going on down on the court, a lot of people, including scores of frum Jews, are sitting inside dining and perhaps having a beer just enjoying the arena, not necessarily concerned about the progress of the game.
There is something about the setup and décor at Barclays that is just not present in Madison Square Garden unless you happen to have purchased or are a guest in one of the luxury suites. Sure, you can dine on some excellent Carlos and Gabby’s at MSG (probably with MSG), but it just seems that Barclays is more conducive to kosher sports dining.
In any event, we have come a long way from bringing our own food into arenas and stadiums because once upon a time nothing was kosher except for the soda, peanuts, potato chips, and maybe the Cracker Jacks.
I know this was supposed to be about sports—instead it looks like it is more about eating during games. It is silly to think that the food is the focus of any genuine sports fan. (Sure, tell that to the guy sitting in front of me on his fourth hot dog and seventh beer.) I think it is just that I get a kick out of the fashion in which major sports franchises consider the needs of Orthodox Jews in setting up the cuisine they offer.
So let’s cover a few more areas of sports and then do the rest on another day. The Super Bowl was terrible, but at least the food at most Super Bowl parties was good (I know, there I go again). The Jets and the Giants were awful this past football season. And the Yankees and Mets were dreadful last year too. So why is it that the one market that generates record amounts of money for its sports teams features such inept and discombobulated teams? I just don’t get it. I know money can’t buy love, but what about a decent winning sports franchise? Why does it have to be considered an impossible miracle for the Mets to win anything? Why can’t they just win or at least finish a baseball season a few games over .500 instead of always 10 to 15 games below—and that’s in a good season.
The thing about sports is that in this world of innumerable allures and distractions, it has always been the least damaging and if nothing else considered the kosher thing to do when you weren’t davening or learning. I suppose that is why a great endeavor for me has always been a minyan at a stadium or in an arena. It’s like worlds meshing and coming together. It is an apex of gashmiyus and ruchniyus, the material physicality of life together with the eternal and spiritual. Now if only our teams would be as good, or close to as good, as the food they are serving today in just about every sports venue. Now that is something to think about and maybe even look forward to. v
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