The buzz in Madison Square Garden during the current New York Knicks basketball season has not been experienced in years. To the amazement of basketball aficionados, a Knicks ticket is a hot consumer item as Carmelo Anthony and Jeremy Lin (before his knee surgery) have converted a lackluster team into a possible playoff team, albeit not one that is likely translatable into an NBA championship. Nonetheless, the early success means that seats on the basketball floor, in what is sometimes referred to as celebrity row, are filled.
One of those seats is occupied at almost every home game by Spike Lee, the filmmaker and avid fan of the Knicks. He is one of the regulars along with Woody Allen, Matthew Modine, and a host of other film personalities. However, Mr. Lee stands apart; he has insinuated himself into the game by cheerleading, confirming referees’ decisions, and engaging in trash talk with opposing players.
Clearly one might ask why Mr. Lee has this privileged position. Should anyone else behave in a similar manner, he would be escorted from the Garden. Is it because he is a highly regarded black filmmaker? Or is it his friendship with the players? Perhaps his yearly purchase of celebrity seats offers license other fans do not receive?
Whatever the explanation, I find his behavior obnoxious, and I suspect I’m not alone. While behavioral standards at athletic contests have been compromised for years, allowing celebrities who once served as models of emulation to act foolishly, this behavior detracts from enjoyment of the game and encourages even more outrageous activity from others. Moreover, Mr. Lee’s effort to intimidate George Zimmerman indicates how irresponsible Mr. Lee is.
I am not suggesting that audience reaction at a Knicks game should resemble a concert at Carnegie Hall. But even at basketball games, proprieties apply – proprieties that are invariably violated by Mr. Lee. Giving “high fives” seems innocent enough, but trash talking that can be overheard by kids is not. Moreover, since Mr. Lee hasn’t any formal relationship with the team, his animated response to referee calls he objects to seems strangely at odds with reasonable behavior.
Rather than put himself on display, Mr. Lee could engage in all of his histrionics without fear of criticism if he took his act to one of the Garden boxes. But, of course, it is precisely public attention that Mr. Lee covets.
Years ago, when Reggie Miller played for the Indianapolis Pacers and single-handedly often defeated the Knicks, there was an ongoing colloquy between Lee and Miller that became a sidelight of the game. Some fans may have enjoyed it, but in my section it was a distraction that merely incentivized Miller.
I’m obviously not suggesting that Mr. Lee be discouraged from buying tickets to Knicks games. What I am arguing is that the standards of propriety be applied across the board. Both VIPs and those in the upper deck should have the same standards applied to them. This might even enhance the general enjoyment of the game and even add to the buzz found in New York’s basketball temple.