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Original Issue

A guide to arriving late, keeping your scalp and seeing the game at the Garden

So you like the Knicks? Or the Rangers? But you came to New York and can't get into Madison Square Garden to see the game of your cherce? Relax. First of all, as far as basketball is concerned, anyone can manage to see the Knicks play Buffalo or Portland. Second, all it takes is a little more patience to be able to see them play L.A., the Bucks or even in the playoffs. Read on. And relax.

The fact is, recent newspaper articles to the contrary notwithstanding, that scalping as a trade seems to be dying. Although a few fat cats are still managing to buy gas for their Eldorados by selling court-side, or red, seats, the demand for green seats ($7.50) is far less than the supply the scalpers have hoarded. Buying blue tickets ($5) is strictly no challenge; your kid sister could get one in no time. This is because today the average scalper is not an employee, so to speak, of a large operation. He is usually a local college student and a basketball fan wise enough to wait in a short line a few weeks in advance of the game. And since he has taken the trouble to wait in that line, he feels free to buy a handful of tickets to peddle back at the campus. If he can't unload them, or if he would rather take the risks of trying to sell at the Garden and possibly turn a larger profit, he will show up on the night of the game. There, in his nylon Duckster jacket, jeans, and de rigueur Chuck Taylor All Star Converse roundball shoes, he joins ranks with the three basic types of ticket sellers. First are the big boys with $13.50 seats who will condescend to sell you one for maybe 40 beans.

The second category includes more college students and, lately, a kind of Children's Crusade of junior high kids—entrepreneurs all and all wearing those ubiquitous Chuck Taylors. The game to play with these kids is to tell them flat out you won't pay more than the price listed on the ticket. That way they know what you're after, and won't have to bother with you anymore. Until game time gets near, that is. You will find they begin to seek you out as it becomes more than possible that their little businesses will be stuck with $15 worth of overhead: $7.50 is better than nothing, and they will begin to talk to you as they wander by, or give you advice on the best place to stand or even offer to sell you their leftovers at face value two minutes before tip-off. Actually, they will be wandering around a lot for another good reason: to avoid the police and the Garden security force. (The usual summons for violating the General Business Law, an offense that doesn't show on a record, is frequently giving way to bookings for a misdemeanor, Criminal Trespass.)

But the last category of sellers is the most important of all, and the most likely source of tickets. That is, the families—the ones that drive in from White Plains or Ridgefield or Tuckahoe. A terrific place to wait for them is right at the top of the escalators. What you are looking for is a mommy, a daddy and two or three kids. The daddy is irritated because they're late. He thinks he has to get there early to turn in little Beth's ticket, little Beth having been tied up in Girl Scouts, ballet or the chicken pox.

The point to remember is, you have to ask people. When you see a likely group, speak up. Don't be afraid of making an ass of yourself. After all, what do you care? Do you want to see the game or do you want to protect your reputation for punctiliousness with a bunch of perfect strangers? Look at it this way: Madison Square Garden holds 20,000 people, and at the last minute more than a handful of them are going to get sick or have sudden engagements.

As in any sport, timing is of major importance. Plan to be at your post at least an hour and 15 minutes before game time. Plan to work the escalators and the south corridor leading to Seventh Avenue for at least half an hour. The next spot to work is up against the V-shaped police barricade in front of the advance ticket pickup window. There you have to examine the faces of the people in the window queue very carefully. You can tell the hesitation of a man who is picking up more tickets than he needs. He will open his envelope slowly, shifting his eyes from it to the cops to you—he's not sure it's legal to unload an extra ticket. So your job is to ask him. The key here is to have the money ready so you don't have to fumble about in your wallet and lose the ticket to someone who is prepared.

If all this fails—and you've really got to be some kind of indoor-record-holding-incompetent if you don't have a ticket by now—you go back out onto Seventh Avenue about five minutes before the game. What you will see is something resembling a cross between a Turkish market and the drying-out ward at a narcotics treatment center. There's this panic-stricken guy with a dozen $13.50 seats left. He can't eat 'em. This is the time to trade up to a red seat and then go back to the escalators to unload the green or blue seat you picked up earlier.

The whole business will put you inside in plenty of time to see Earl Monroe sink his first absolutely unconscious shot and draw a foul while the guy guarding him seems about to do surgery on Earl's olecranon process. And to see Earl come right back and blow a completely uncontested but nonetheless marvelously double-pumped layup. You'll never forget it.