NEW YORK -- When the 2010-11 Knicks' season ended, press room attendant Al Marchfeld didn't know if he would return. With ongoing concerns about his health and knowing that Madison Square Garden was about to undergo the first phase of its transformation, the 79-year-old Marchfeld had no idea what was in store.
But what he did know is that he wanted to be back, even while dealing with cataracts in both eyes, poor circulation in his feet, a weaker heart with a new defibrillator and dialysis treatment for his failing kidneys. Then, right around the time the NBA lockout ended, Marchfeld received the phone call he had been hoping for. He would be able to remain at his post for his 63rd year -- yes, his 63rd -- working with the Knicks and MSG in different capacities through the years.
"I never know year to year, but they called me a few weeks before the Garden open practice [in December] and a guy said, 'Al, are you coming back?'" Marchfeld said. "And before I had a chance to say anything, he said, 'We want you back. You're a legend here.' That was nice to hear. That makes me feel good."
Marchfeld "legend" status carries more weight beyond the Garden. He is, in fact, the second-longest tenured employee in the NBA after Philadelphia 76ers director of statistical information Harvey Pollack, who has worked for the league since its inaugural season in 1946-47 season.
In the previous arena setup, Marchfeld managed the press seating in the "media ramp," in between Sections 68 and 69. Now, with that area gone due to the renovations, he's carrying out similar duties in the new media section in 327. The biggest difference, he said, is that the seat assignments are usually the same because there aren't as many scouts and foreign reporters, and that makes his job a bit less taxing.
Marchfeld was very glad to be in the Garden again because it distracted him from his health problems. "It picks me up," he said. Going into this season, there was an added excitement. That's because Mike Bibby was on the team. It turns out, when Bibby's father, Henry, played for the Knicks in the 1970s, Marchfeld become a close friend and actually babysitted Mike when he was an infant.
"Henry Bibby had a brother who pitched in the majors for Pittsburgh and then the Mets, Jim Bibby. He recently passed away," Marchfeld said. "I was quite friendly with a lot of the Mets players and [Jim] told me, 'My brother, Henry, just got drafted to the Knicks from California.' And he asked me to look after him.
"[Henry] came to New York without any winter clothes right from California. I helped him settle down, get him some clothes and I helped him with his apartment. I showed him the ropes. Then, he used to go shopping or go out for the night with his wife, Virginia, and he would drop Mike Bibby off at my house. Mike was in diapers. He was almost a newborn."
Bibby obviously doesn't remember Marchfeld's interaction with him because he was only a baby, but he's aware of Marchfeld's connection to his family through the years. Marchfeld considers himself "a surrogate uncle" to Bibby, and he remembers the first time he saw him all grown up, when he played at the Garden as a member of the Sacramento Kings.
"I had one of the coaches go into the locker room. I said, 'Can you tell Mike Bibby to come out? Tell him his uncle is here,' Marchfeld said. "And he came out and he's looking around and I waved to him. He comes over and I said, 'Don't say a word. Just give me a big hug.' He looked at me and was like, 'Who the hell is this guy giving me a hug?' I said, 'Mike, I'm your uncle from way back when you were an infant.' I got a big smile out of him.
"We lost touch because he was traded a few times and he was one of the ballplayers that never came out to warmup before the game. So I haven't seen much of him. But I've been following his career and he's had a good career. I saw Mike at the open practice, and I said, 'Mike, I'm so happy that you're here.' He had a big smile on his face."
Marchfeld is hoping to attend all of the home games, but he said the biggest challenge will be the back-to-back games with the shortened season. In previous ones, he was able to find time to see a doctor because there were more off days in between games.
"[The Knicks] understand what I'm going through and they're more interested in my health," Marchfeld said. "Don't forget, I'm one of the only ones on staff who works every game. Some of the guys are lawyers and school teachers and real estate people, and they don't come to every game. Sometimes they come every fourth or fifth game."
Marchfeld still likes the Knicks chances this year, even with their early struggles, that he even envisions them going out on top. But, he said, a lot depends on Baron Davis' recovery. Whether that championship banner is raised or not, Marchfeld is just happy to continue his marriage with the team -- the longest anyone has had since its inception. Being at the games also gives him a chance to say hello to the children of current and former Knicks players (for example, Amare Stoudemire and Allan Houston) and players of former ones he became friends with in the past, such as Minnesota's Kevin Love (father Stan), Golden State's Stephen Curry (father Dell) and Klay Thompson (father Mychal).
It's clear that no matter how many misfortunes he's currently going through or medicines he's taking, the real cure for Mr. Marchfeld is the Knicks.
"I'm looking forward to every game," he said. "I'm trying to change my treatments so I can be at them. Sometimes I don't feel good, but when you walk into that building, everything like leaves you. All your problems leave you and I've got a big smile."
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