NEW YORK (Reuters) - The healing powers of sport are a contentious issue, with the line between uniting and dividing a thin one easily crossed, as the organizers of the New York Marathon learned on Friday.
The marathon was canceled because the public demanded it. Race officials had misjudged the mood of a city recovering from the devastation caused by superstorm Sandy and suddenly athletes from other sports were second guessing themselves.
At Madison Square Garden, in the heart of midtown Manhattan, the New York Knicks and the Miami Heat were warming up for the National Basketball Association game at Madison Square Garden when word filtered through the marathon was off.
The NBA had already canceled the Knicks’ season opener against the Brooklyn Nets, which was supposed to be played on Thursday, making the game against the reigning NBA champions the first in New York since Sandy wreaked havoc on the region.
Players from both teams were wondering whether they should be playing at a time when so many people had died and others were suffering.
Miami guard Dwyane Wade said the game should have been canceled. He felt uneasy and announced he would donate his game fee, reported to be around $200,000, to the relief effort.
“I just felt that (there were) bigger things to be concerned about than us being here to play a basketball game,” Wade told reporters before the game.
Wade’s team mate LeBron James was unsure about whether the game should proceed, but believed it would at least provide a temporary diversion.
“There’s also people that believe that we need this basketball game for a lot of spirits and a lot of families,” said James.
The Knicks players all hoped it would offer some light relief after the devastating events of the past week.
The players need not have worried. The crowd respectfully stood in silence, bowing their heads in tribute to the victims, waiting for the game to start.
Carmello Anthony, who scored 30 points in New York’s surprise 104-84 win over the Heat, grabbed the microphone and told the crowd that this was a time for New Yorkers to come together and rebuild the city.
”Today was something to give New York,“ Anthony said. ”A couple of hours of some peace. To come to the game, to support us.
“We gave them a good show tonight. That was the least we could do.”
When the opening whistle was blown, the crowd let out a might roar, bellowing like old times, cheering wildly whenever the Knicks scored and cursing every Miami basket. It had a galvanizing effect on the Knicks.
“It was great, our fans were fantastic, they were like our sixth man,” said Knicks coach Mike Woodson.
“Our fans were right into it from the beginning to the end. I think that says a lot about the city of New York.”