On Sunset Boulevard, Knicks fans create a portal to Madison Square Garden

New York Knicks fans cheer while watching the team play on televisions displayed at 33 Taps bar in Los Angeles.
New York Knicks fans Desus Nice, middle, and Michael Torhan, right, react after a foul is called while watching Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Knicks and the Miami Heat at 33 Taps bar in Los Angeles.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
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It’s halftime, so Desus Nice is smoking a blunt in the California sunshine.

And the Knicks are up five, so the Bronx native and comedian is in a good mood. (Obviously, the Knicks would manage to lose this game, as if that is even a question; they’re the Knicks). But for now the mood was pretty bing bong outside 33 Taps, a Silver Lake bar that has become the de facto sports bar for displaced New Yorkers desperate to watch an NBA playoff run with others from the city — or at least the tri-state area.

“Am I going to watch Knicks games alone in my apartment? That’s the saddest thing ever,” said Nice, who moved to Los Angeles three months ago to — as he explained to one woman who clearly had never heard of him — “work in entertainment.” I plugged my ears as he said the name of his not-for-publication new show that’s in the works. But I was hardly at the bar as a reporter.

As a New York Knicks fan like Nice who moved to L.A. from New York less than a year ago, I too had stumbled upon 33 Taps as a potential neutral location to watch a Knicks playoffs game and was fairly shocked when, upon entering, I saw a dude in a Zabar’s hat and a crowd of fans chanting like drunk and slightly obnoxious fans at Madison Square Garden. A spontaneous expletive-laced chant about Trae Young broke out, for example.

I figured it was as good a place as any to watch a game, with dozens of televisions adorning the walls and boneless chicken wings that seem to appear at your table before you’ve even ordered them.


“I just packed up, I moved my cat and my dog out here. It’s a big change,” Nice said. “I get homesick all the time, so coming here and being here with other New Yorkers changes everything. ... If you move to L.A. and you don’t really know what’s going on, you end up crying on your balcony to Lana Del Rey.”

Nice is the gravitational center around which the Knicks bonanzas orbit. On Sunday, about 40 Knicks fans crowded into the bar, dwarfing a few tables of rogue Dodgers (not Brooklyn) fans, who were pregaming a day game. Nice has been going to 33 Taps since the beginning of the playoffs. He grabs a table near the front and holds — pause for bad wordplay — court. (Pause for applause). He daps up strangers as if they’re old friends. He did this, for example, to my friend Evan Kim, who I’ve confirmed does not know Nice, and said it was nice to see him. And it’s genuine.

New York Knicks fan Peter Agoston cheers on his team while watching a game against the Miami Heat at a bar.
New York Knicks fan Peter Agoston cheers on his team while watching a game against the Miami Heat on Sunday at 33 Taps in Los Angeles.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

While Nice may be the best-known fan in attendance, he paid cryptic homage to a man he called the governor, a.k.a. Peter Agoston, who started everything.

Agoston plays it a bit quieter than Nice, leaning back against the wooden bar in a bright blue Knicks jacket and black Knicks hat. He doesn’t tell people that, without him, this refuge for wayward New Yorkers probably wouldn’t exist. He’s just enjoying the vibes.

Agoston is a superfan, arguably too big of a fan, of the New York Knicks. He watched “pretty much almost every single game” of the last two Knicks seasons at 33 Taps. On top of that, he also watches Knicks preseason and Summer League games at 33 Taps, where he gets to watch players like Dahvon Blair, a Knicks summer league player who was later waived from the team’s G League affiliate.


“It’s turned into this one-person-at-a-time, word-of-mouth community. Especially when the Knicks are doing good, there’s no energy like New York Knicks fans when they’re happy, jubilant,” Agoston said.

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The energy got worse in the second half when the Knicks did an extremely Knicks thing and completely imploded, but it was still a communal bad feeling, which is almost a good feeling, though not quite. But it’s a familiar feeling, one Knicks fans know well.

It wasn’t always like this, Agoston says, looking out at the sea of hip Knicks fans. At first it was just him. Then sometimes he would see another fan. They would acknowledge each other with a very New York nod of the head from across the room. And Agoston always had a message for newcomers.

“Come back for the next one,” he says.

Justin Harris was one of the governor’s recruits.

“It’s hard to find camaraderie in Los Angeles. The fact I can come here reliably by myself and immediately be talking to a bunch of strangers for the next three hours, it’s awesome,” said Justin Harris, a Manhattan native who moved to L.A. to work in animation.

He grew up in Manhattan and the thing he misses most about New York is the spontaneous interaction with strangers in random situations.

For me it wasn’t all strangers. I immediately ran into a few New Yorkers I know — Ben Oreskes and James Queally — two reporters for The Times who are Knicks fans and know I’m a Knicks fan but had not invited me to 33 Taps to watch the game for whatever reason. But the joke is on them because I was getting paid (doing my job, bing bong!) to watch the game and they weren’t.


Oreskes asked to be quoted anonymously, but The Times saw no good reason to do so.

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Something about sports fans gathered together in the wrong city exaggerates the contours of the identity they share. New York Knicks fans at 33 Taps are more New York than New Yorkers and they want to prove it. It’s like walking into a New York Nico Instagram post.

But there’s no better place in Los Angeles to watch a Knicks game. And they’re playing Tuesday at 4:30 p.m., which is during happy hour at 33 Taps.

I’ll be there.

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