At 6:30 p.m., almost an hour before the Jeremy Lin Show was slated to get going, the line outside of Nom Wah Tea Parlor stretched down around Doyer Street’s weird right angle, almost spilling out on Bowery. A police van was parked a little further down, keeping an eye on the growing crowd. The Linsane, the Linspired, and the merely Lin-curious had come to Nom Wah for MSG’s game viewing party, the latest in a long line of events that the corporation has hosted throughout New York State since January 1, the day that the Time Warner Cable blackout began.
Inside Nom Wah, while the crowd waited, MSG had set up a Jeremy Lin standee, a table of T-shirts printed with “Just Lin It” and “Time Warner Cable Is Keeping Fans IN THE DARK MSG Has You Covered KeepMSG.Com,” and a press conference. Sitting in front of the cardboard Lin, MSG Networks general manager Dan Ronayne greeted the press and Chinatown VIPs with a “da jia hao,” some nice words about Jeremy Lin and the Asian-American community, and then moved on to the anti–Time Warner plea. After noting that the ratings for Wednesday night’s game against the Raptors peaked with 579,204 households tuned in, beating out Carmelo’s debut game in February last year, Ronayne asked “those who can” to “switch to another TV provider, so you don’t risk missing more games.”
Stern soundbites delivered, and unwilling to comment on the Knicks fandom and possible viewing methods of Time Warner employees (Time Warner spokeswoman Maureen Huff confirmed that she, at least, is glad to have access to sports bars in her neighborhood), Ronayne stepped aside to let the fans in.
Even with all but a few booth banquettes cleared from Nom Wah’s floor, the crowd soon made walking from the free dim sum table to the bar and back worse than navigating Canal Street on a Saturday. D.J. Hill, brought down from MSG, made things even louder with arena jams and shock-jock sound effects during every ad break. But the fans, spanning the spectrum of Time Warner discontent, could still shout answers to some questions.
The first few people in line were from Jersey, so didn’t have any problem watching the games at home. The second group, from the neighborhood, all had DirecTV at home and just came to be around fellow fans. Alvin Kong was the only guy in a group of four friends who had Time Warner in the neighborhood, but hadn’t had much of a problem finding online feeds of the game. Plus, “my neighbor has DirecTV, so I can always just watch at his place.”
One Bobby, who came down to watch from his apartment in Gramercy wearing suspenders and a bright-red AARP T-shirt, was a little less easygoing. “Absolutely I’d switch from Time Warner. What’s the point? Why am I paying for it if I can’t get the Knicks? They need to ante up!”
But Eddie Yu, a diehard Chinatown resident in head-to-toe orange and blue, was stuck with Time Warner in his building and had only caught games on TNT, ESPN, and the Yes network, when the Knicks have played the Nets. He was bummed about the situation.
But the crowd forgot any discontent when the game started, the Knicks picked up a quick lead, and Knicks alum John Wallace showed up with a few Knicks City Dancers. At the end of each quarter, D.J. Hill had John Wallace read the winning raffle number for pairs of tickets, a commemorative Knicks frame, and, at the end of the game, a pair of shoes autographed by Lin himself.
Nom Wah owner Wilson Tang said that the venerable dim sum spot has had big crowds in to watch their DirecTV feed since Lin’s first big game. “Last night, we actually stayed open an hour later than usual to let people finish watching.” Given that most of the crowd didn’t seem too troubled by the blackout, and just came to be with friends and fellow fans, Tang might be providing a more valuable service than a Time Warner/MSG contract ever could: a solid sports bar (with dim sum) in Chinatown.