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Official Review by Sean MacDonald, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The Westchester Knicks are an NBA D-League expansion franchise that began operations for the 2014-15 season. Owned by the New York Knicks, the team plays out of the Westchester County Center in White Plains, New York, about 30 miles north of the Big Apple. The Knicks decided to maintain the team's (k)nickname, but went with an older logo to differentiate them from the parent club, and used the county name Westchester as the team's geographic designation.
The WCC opened in 1930 as a theater and cultural venue, with an Art Deco design typical of larger public buildings of the time. It now stands inside a traffic circle, an impressive sight in the middle of quiet residential area. Once you step inside though, you realize that the full power of one of the NBA's signature franchises is behind the curtain. There are no growing pains here; the Westchester Knicks are already an excellent sports destination.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs is the concessionaire here, with two stands, one on each floor. Use the one on the lower level as there are fewer seats here and thus fewer fans lining up. The menu is much like a fast food restaurant, with three main choices: hot dogs ($3.29 for one or $6.50 for two, while a chili cheese dog runs $3.99); hamburgers and cheesesteaks ($4.50 for a bacon cheeseburger, $5.99 for a Philly cheesesteak, and $3.99 for nine hot dog nuggets), and chicken (sandwiches are $5.49, three chicken tenders is $3.99 while six boneless wings go for $4.99).
You can also purchase a combo meal including fries and a drink with prices differing depending on the selected meal, and there is also an option to upgrade to a large fries and soda (Pepsi products) for 99 cents. The quality is as expected from a fast-food operation catering to 2,000 people, with the food mostly precooked and thus not as good as it could have been.
There is a single stand selling pretzels and draft beer, but it wasn't operational as I walked by.
You will notice a large buffet at the far end of the court with several tables. This is the Founders Club, reserved for VIP and club ticket holders. Admission includes unlimited food and non-alcoholic beverages, and comes with a full-service bar. Club tickets can be had for as little as $55, so this option might be intriguing if you are looking to entertain guests or just have the full experience during your visit.
The NY Knicks send the gameday crew to run the show here and that makes a huge difference compared to some of the other D-League venues. The operation is smooth and professional, yet smartly lacks the hype that you see in the NBA these days. Player introductions are loud, but the lights remain on and it isn't annoying. During timeouts, there are your typical promotions such as the t-shirt toss and half-court shot. Cheerleaders make a few appearances as well to keep things moving along.
There are three video boards, two of which show live action and one that displays the score, including the foul count, although more detailed boards with individual statistics are not available, not unusual at this level. Video clips are shown here too, or crowd shots such as the Dance Cam. With many families and youth groups in attendance, this really gets the crowd going.
What I particularly appreciate about the atmosphere here is how the team allows the game to play out without making noise throughout. After some Knick baskets, video game laser sounds can be heard, but it isn't grating. Music sometimes plays during the action, but again, not enough to be bothersome. As the game nears its end, staff appear in the stands with cowbells to encourage the crowd and this really gets people on their feet. Of course, this might differ should the game be a blowout, but from what I could tell, the game day crew follows the action on the floor and tailors their presentation to match.
There are two distinct areas close to the County Center that can be explored on foot. Central Avenue to the west of the traffic circle has several eateries within a half-mile, including the City Limits Diner, Niko's Greek Taverna, Buon Amici if you are craving Italian, and Kalbi House for Korean food.
East of White Plains station you will find the Galleria at White Plains, The Westchester, and White Plains Mall, three shopping centers with their own fast food restaurants. This area also includes a couple of sports bars: a branch of Buffalo Wild Wings (if the Knicks score 100 you get a free order of wings) and Bob Hyland's Sports Page Pub. Fans of craft beer can try The Lazy Boy Saloon, which is about a mile from the WCC.
Should all of those options leave you wanting, Manhattan is less than an hour away. Check Metro North's schedules though, at times trains are only every half hour and you don't want to be chilled at the station when you could be chilling inside a nearby bar.
For a new franchise, the fan base is very impressive. They obviously understand basketball and many of them are supporters of the parent club, with several Knicks jerseys on display in the crowd. Of course, with many families with young kids in attendance, not everyone has their attention on the game, but that is what minor league sports are about, keeping fans entertained. I enjoyed seeing some fans with a Greek flag in recognition of Thanasis Antetokounmpo, one of Westchester's top prospects. One very enthusiastic fan had a courtside seat and chanted "Defense" on every play, eventually getting the rest of the crowd to join in. I expect the fan base to grow as the team gains more exposure through marketing campaigns with the Knicks.
The Westchester County Center is easily accessible by either car or public transit. Drivers can take the Bronx River Parkway from the city and exit at Central Avenue, going around the traffic circle to the free parking lots on the south side. Those without a vehicle can use Metro North Railroad's Harlem Line from Grand Central Station. Some trains make their first stop after Harlem at White Plains making the trip takes just over 30 minutes long; plan on 45-50 minutes if you get a milk run. From White Plains station, walk over the Bronx River Parkway, turn right, and you will see the WCC ahead of you, at most a five-minute stroll away.
Round-trip off-peak tickets are $17 and make sure to buy in the station, as prices on the train are much higher. Peak fares will apply if you leave Grand Central between 4 and 7 pm on a weekday. There are buses that head to White Plains as well, but the Metro North is likely faster and easier for visitors.
Inside the venue, there are no problems getting around. Staircases will take you to the balcony, and the concourse is behind the seats, giving plenty of room for fans to walk around without blocking the view of others. The first two rows in the balcony have excellent legroom, but the rest of the seats here are a bit tight, as you would expect from an old-style theater. You can even stand on the lower level behind the net without being harassed, though the views are not the best from there.
There are bathrooms on both levels and you can expect no lineups during a game.
Tickets start at $10 for end zone balcony seats, but be careful if you go for these, as there are two distinct areas, one of which should be avoided. The section to aim for is 33, right behind the basket. The first row here puts you right on top of the floor. As you move up, you might find the area near the baseline to be seats are in sections 202, 212, 311, and 321 but they are not behind the basket, instead they are in the far corner and not facing the court directly. Corner balcony seats are $14, while those on the sideline are $19 or $25 depending on how close to the center you are.
There are only ten seats per section along the sides (both left and right balconies use the same section numbers), with seven rows each. I would try to get in the first two rows if possible here, as they have more legroom and you can see the entire court.
I wouldn't recommend the lower sideline seats at $35, as they are folding chairs (balcony seats are plusher and more comfortable) and some of the back rows will have their view blocked by the balcony itself. If you want to splurge, then consider the Courtside and Club options, which range from $52 to $124 and include access to the Founders Club. All of these prices exclude the TicketMaster fees, which range from $6 to $12. To avoid this blatant rip-off, many fans purchase their tickets at the box office on game day, leading to long lineups as tip-off approaches.
The D-League is one of the best basketball experiences out there, with some very talented players who are so close to achieving their dream, as well as others on the downside of their career. Combine that with the marketing and game day expertise provided by the parent Knicks and you have the makings of a memorable time at a very affordable price.
The Westchester Sports Hall of Fame is located to the right once you enter the gym proper. It is a collection of plaques featuring some local sports heroes and worth a few minutes of your time. For some reason though, they have a sign indicating no photos are allowed.
A point for the aesthetic beauty of the facility as well as the excellent job that the Knicks have done in turning it into a great place to watch basketball. It's a top-notch game day presentation from start to finish.
A final point for the team's acknowledgement of Stadium Journey. I was interviewed at halftime and shown on the big screen, a nice touch that demonstrates these guys understand what they are doing. Westchester Knick fans have a lot to look forward to.
The D-League is slowly becoming a true minor circuit and true hoops fans should be checking it out when they can. The nature of basketball means that few top draft picks will ever spend time here, but you can see some future sixth men and bench players. The Knicks understand that this is a minor league and maintain a pricing structure that allows families to enjoy themselves while also attracting a corporate crowd with their higher-end options. Given the sorrowful state of the NBA's Knicks during the 2014-2015 season, if you are in New York and want to see some entertaining basketball, consider taking the short trip to White Plains and enjoy a few hours in the company of the Westchester Knicks.
Member Review by Prince on Mar 13, 2015
As people know, doing anything in Midtown Manhattan is a pricey proposition. Even with the NY Knicks playing poorly, people mainly tourists still flock to Madison Square Garden to see them play on a regular basis. Back in November, a new team started playing into the metropolitan area. I'm referring to the Knicks who moved their NBA Developmental League team from Erie, Pennsylvania to White Plains, NY which is in Westchester County. As a result, it opened the options for people to have a more affordable alternative. Last night I got to experience it for myself. Since I read the review beforehand, I knew exactly what to expect. Needless to say, I wasn't disappointed. In fact, I got to see a very competitive & entertaining game to boot. The crowd was family oriented which made for a fun atmosphere. The County Center is so conveniently located that it was easy for me to get there by train right after I left my office. Since I got there close to game time, I decided to indulge in food there. Nathan's is the only option for the general public. It worked out well since I love their food. I ordered a bacon cheeseburger which was tasty. Since I got the combo, I got to enjoy their famous fries as well as fresh squeezed lemonade which I ate when I got up to my seat in the balcony which overhung the court. During the game, this was plenty of entertainment from the cheerleaders to the in house music during timeouts & halftime. Overall, it was a wonderful experience. I look forward to returning next season to see another game. I hope others who read this will too. As I like to say, seeing is believing.
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