Knicks Superfan Is Set to Be There to the Bitter End
By SCOTT CACCIOLAAPRIL 14, 2015
ATLANTA — About 45 minutes before the Knicks faced the Hawks at Philips Arena on Monday night, Dennis Doyle was among the first patrons seated in Section 112.
His ticket, which he had purchased before the season, was a remnant of a bygone era, back when the Knicks employed Iman Shumpert and J. R. Smith, back when Carmelo Anthony had two functional knees, and back when Doyle believed the team was capable of making the N.B.A. playoffs.
The season, the worst in franchise history, has been more difficult than any of them could have imagined.
“I’m so shot,” Doyle said. “My senses are just done. My memory all runs together.”
With the Knicks riding a surprising two-game winning streak, Doyle’s quest to attend all 82 of the team’s games is expected to come to a merciful conclusion Wednesday night when the Detroit Pistons visit Madison Square Garden. Barring something unforeseen, Doyle will observe the proceedings from his familiar perch: Section 220, Row 3, Seat 23.
Game No. 81 took him to Atlanta, and after spending $26,000 of his savings over more than five months to take in 64 losses (and 17 wins), Doyle wore khaki shorts, a blue T-shirt and the ashen expression of someone who had been a stowaway on a ship adrift at sea.
“It would have been a totally different experience,” he said, “if they’d been good.”
Doyle, 32, whose existential crisis was first reported in November, decided to follow the Knicks around for the season after being let go from his job as a lawyer. A lifelong fan of the team, he has chronicled his travels in a blog — The Oakman Cometh: A Season With the New York Knicks — and recently signed with a literary agent, Josh Getzler, to shop a book proposal.
“I think he has appropriately suffered,” Kelley Doyle Snyder, one of his older sisters, said in a telephone interview. “He knew this was going to be a personal transformation, and you never know what the transformation is going to bring. But you know that there’s going to be some pain involved.”
The unusual nature of Doyle’s feat has brought its own measure of acclaim. He has been written up by The New York Post, which described him as a “basket case,” and by Sports Illustrated, which questioned his sanity in more muted terms. A handful of people have come by his seat at the Garden to offer their condolences, he said. A Japanese television station also interviewed him, although Doyle said he was uncertain whether the story ever aired.
“I might be big in Japan right now,” he said. “I’m not sure.”
To be clear, he has no illusions about his celebrity. He is not often recognized, although he was by a fan who happened to be sitting next to him in Miami for a game against the Heat.
“He just looked at me and was like, ‘Are you the guy?’ ” Doyle recalled. “And I knew exactly what he meant, but for some reason I was like, ‘Am I what guy?’ There’s a little bit of shame in admitting what I’m doing.”
Doyle still considers the team’s surprising victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Oct. 30 to be the Knicks’ “high-water mark.” It was impossible to know at the time, he said, that the Knicks would lose seven of their next eight contests. Or that his friends would kindly decline his invitations to join him at the Garden. Or that he would miss certain perks of being gainfully employed.
“If I had better health care coverage,” he said, “I’d seriously consider therapy.”
Aside from what he described as his regimented feedings of dreadful basketball, Doyle has enjoyed portions of his adventure. At the Garden, he befriended two fellow season-ticket holders who sit directly behind him and provide a cynical soundtrack for each home game.
The travel, too, has been fun for the most part. In January, Doyle went to London so he could watch the Knicks lose on a different continent. In March, the day after a more prosaic loss to the Suns in Phoenix, he rented a car and visited the Grand Canyon. It was beautiful, he said. But even then, it was nearly impossible to divorce himself from the reality of his situation.
“Staring into the abyss,” he said, “it was hard not to think of the Knicks.”
Fatigue has come at a cost, both psychological and financial. Ahead of the team’s final trip of the season, to Orlando and Atlanta, Doyle had been booked to fly out of Newark, a trek from his apartment in Astoria, Queens. But he found an extra $150 so he could leave from La Guardia Airport instead.
“When you get close to the finish line, there are two schools of thought,” he said. “It can re-energize you and push you harder. But I think I’m more the type that just wants to collapse.”
He missed only three flights all season, he said, which he regards as an accomplishment. One was returning home from Boston, after he somehow managed to overlook about three emails from the airline about a change in the departure time. He missed another in Miami after he realized he left his cellphone in his rental car. He wound up sprinting through the airport in flip-flops with a bag of golf clubs slung over his shoulder. (He recovered his phone.)
The Knicks’ struggles have forced him to do something he swore he would never do in his long history as a committed fan: root for them to accumulate as many losses as possible, in hopes that they can improve their odds of securing the top pick in the draft. Doyle made that psychological shift after the Knicks defeated the San Antonio Spurs on March 17.
“When they beat San Antonio, I sort of felt like, O.K., I can live with one more feel-good win this season,” Doyle said. “But enough’s enough.”
So when the Knicks visited Orlando on Saturday, Doyle was annoyed when the Magic’s Nikola Vucevic labored to establish position on the block and when Tim Hardaway Jr. made a late 3-pointer to seal the Knicks’ 80-79 victory. As for the teams combining for the lowest-scoring quarter in the shot clock era, Doyle was less opinionated. (After all that he has witnessed this season, it felt like more of the same.) In any case, he left the arena in a torrential downpour and drove two hours to Vero Beach, Fla.
“That’s where my pullout couch was for the night,” he said. “Most depressing win of my life.”
It turned out to be more of the same in Atlanta, where unsung players like Langston Galloway and Lance Thomas helped the Knicks shock the Hawks with a 112-108 victory. Given his focus on the draft lottery, Doyle assessed the result less glowingly.
“Nightmare,” he wrote via text.
At least he could take solace in knowing that he had only one game left to attend. After that, he said, he plans to head back to the airport for one final trip — to St. Croix.