Commentary

Marchfeld is Garden's best-kept secret

Sixty-two-year Knicks employee may be most famous person you've never heard of

Updated: May 5, 2011, 2:11 PM ET
By Jared Zwerling | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

"Hello Ricky," shouts an older man, acknowledging an NYKnicks.com writer passing through the media "ramp" area between Sections 68 and 69 in Madison Square Garden. It's 6 p.m. on a Tuesday in early April, an hour and a half before tip-off.

But this is not some ordinary older man who's simply there to sit back, relax and enjoy the game. He's the Knicks' press-box attendant in charge of managing the media seating for the Knicks' matchup against the Toronto Raptors.

"I'm not here to watch the game; I'm here to work," says 78-year-old Al Marchfeld, who usually gets to the arena by 4:30 and leaves at midnight. "We only have seats for 28 people each game for some of the scouts, the press, writers and TV people. If they don't belong here, I've got to keep them out of there. Unfortunately I make enemies, but the next day they forget about it."

Al Marchfeld
Courtesy of Al Marchfeld Al Marchfeld, who started with the Knicks in 1949 as a ball boy, managed the foul flags throughout the '60s, '70s and '80s.

Remaining enemies with Marchfeld is a difficult task given his unique story. Marchfeld just completed his 62nd year -- yes, his 62nd -- working for the Knicks and Madison Square Garden, the past three of which while undergoing dialysis for what he called "kidney failure."

Amazingly, he missed only two games during the regular season due to his illness, and last week he was able to work Game 4 of the Knicks-Celtics first-round series.

"My job is easy for me, but I take it very, very seriously and I don't like to miss a game because I feel like they depend on me," Marchfeld says.

In order to minimize his no-shows, he made sure his three-day-a-week dialysis treatments were not on days the Knicks played.

"The treatment takes a lot out of you," Marchfeld says, "and after the treatment, it's like eight or nine hours of recovery. You're completely wiped out. But when I come to the Garden, it's like it perks me up to see all my friends, the players, the dancers and the writers. So it's good medicine for me. When we get a W, I always feel better."

Marchfeld, a Brooklyn native, became a Knicks fan in 1946 while rooting for his friend's cousin, Leo Gottlieb, who was on the original team. Through that connection, he was invited to become a ball boy in 1949 when he was 16 years old. Around the same time, he also served as a part-time bat boy for the Brooklyn Dodgers and acted as Jackie Robinson's personal escort to Ebbets Field.

"I used to go about four blocks away from the ballpark to the train station, and wait for Jackie to get off the train to escort him into Ebbets Field," Marchfeld says. "I'll never forget what I said to him. 'Jackie, we got a good team with Pee Wee [Reese], Duke [Snider] and Gil [Hodges],' and his answer was, 'Well, they're good, but I haven't done anything yet.'"

Several years later, Marchfeld was named a statistician for local Channel 11 (WPIX), working with former original Knick Bud Palmer who was then a sportscaster. During those days, Marchfeld remembers Knicks games getting bumped from the old MSG (on 8th Avenue between 49th and 50th streets) to the 69th Regiment Armory (on Lexington Avenue between 25th and 26th streets) when circuses and ice shows took over the arena.

"[At the armory], they used to have the baskets with the guide wires going up to the top," Marchfeld says, "and when the visiting teams would shoot a foul, the people upstairs would grab the wire and the basket would shake. The referee would actually say, 'He's going to shoot till he makes it.'"

In the 1960s, Marchfeld was a valet, serving drinks and sandwiches to celebrities attending games. Then he was promoted to the scorer's table, where he managed the foul flags. For personal fouls, he'd hold up a paddle that had "P" and the number of fouls on the player (for example, "P1" if it was his first foul); and for team fouls, he'd hold up a paddle that had "T" and the number of team fouls (for example, "T1"). When he started, he kept track of every foul, but as he was nearing the 100,000th player foul about 10 years later, something changed.

"Knicks players used to say, 'I hope I'm not the 100,000th. I don't want that trivia,'" Marchfeld says. "But they stopped using the paddles because the computers came in; much more advanced."

About 15 years ago, Marchfeld says a lot of the Knicks' staff was let go, but they wanted him to stay so they created a job for him: press box attendant, a role he's been in ever since.

Walt Frazier and Al Marchfeld
Courtesy of Al MarchfeldMarchfeld has become close with many Knicks greats over the years, including legendary guard Walt Frazier.

"They said that since I'd been here all those years and I was like a legend, they didn't want me leaving," says Marchfeld, whose email name is MrKnick. "After a few games, I took to the change and realized everything moves on. I was still lucky to be at the Garden, and I got to meet a lot of new people every game because we had different sportswriters, scouts and European writers, so it's been quite interesting."

Two years ago, to celebrate his 60th year with the Knicks, the organization held a special ceremony for him before a home game. They presented him with a team jersey with his last name and No. 60 on the back and a commemorative ring, which had a logo of the Garden on the top, No. 60 on one side and "New York Knicks" on the other. They also gave him a large flat-screen TV, on which Marchfeld not only catches every away game, but also watches the replay of every home game -- only if they win, of course.

"When you watch them on TV, you see so much more because you see the fans and the interviews," Marchfeld says. "So that's exciting, I'm like a fan when I get home, but over here, I'm not here to watch the game; I'm here to work."

Through the years, Marchfeld became close with several of the Knicks legends, including Willis Reed and Bernard King, and even vacationed with them down in the Bahamas. He also became a fan favorite, from also working Rangers games to major tennis and volleyball tournaments at the Garden, and has received gifts from them -- many of which he donated. But one he still has: the Knicks watch that he wears.

With renovations ongoing at the Garden, the media ramp area will soon be gone, but Marchfeld has his sights set on returning next season to keep his legacy going. Currently he is the second-longest-tenured employee in the NBA, after the Philadelphia 76ers' director of statistical information, 89-year-old Harvey Pollack, who has worked for the league since its inaugural 1946-47 season.

"I only wish him the best, but I want him to retire already because I can go out No. 1," Marchfeld says with a wry smile.

The biggest thing that could get in the way of Marchfeld's return is his health. But if he doesn't return, he'll still be a die-hard Bocker.

"If the season started next month, I'd be back," Marchfeld says, "but the season won't start now for six months and by then I'll be [almost] 79 years old. I'm just hoping that my health stays the way it is. To work for the Garden, it's great. It's like one family and everybody looks out for the other guy. If I'm not back, I'll still be a big fan."

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