NEW YORK -- The woman at the box office brushed off the potential ticket buyer, saying no seats were available because the Knicks-Bulls game was a sellout.
Some 20 feet away, a scalper wanted $30 for a $60 ticket. Told that the offer was $5, he pulled out a comp ticket with a face value of $0 and said, yes, five bucks would be fine.
The next-to-last game of the season at Madison Square Garden was and was not a sellout.
The Knicks announced it was one, claiming all the 19,762 tickets had been purchased. But several thousand sets remained empty throughout the game - just as they have throughout a majority of the Knicks' games during a disappointing season that is about to end with them missing the playoffs for the first time in 15 years.
New York announced its 431st consecutive sellout, a streak that began Feb. 4, 1993, vs. Golden State.
"Still?" asked Latrell Sprewell, who was playing as a rookie for the Warriors on the night the sellout streak began. "I think it's a situation where the tickets were sold out for so many years because people were on the waiting list for so long.
"It was empty, but the good thing is people came later. They just didn't try to get here on time."
Team spokesman Joe Favorito said most of the individual game tickets are sold before the season even begins, although some tickets - "fewer than 100" - are released late.
Those tickets are routinely repurchased by the club and given away to charity, helping perpetuate the sellout streak - the fifth-longest in NBA history and the longest active sellout streak among America's four major professional sports.
Although the tickets might once have been purchased, thousands of them are going unused and many others are being unloaded for whatever the secondary market will bear.
Outside the bustling front entrance to the Garden on Thursday night, there was no shortage of scalpers with seats.
One scalper offered a $100 face value ticket for $60.
Nearby, another scalper came running back to his friends, boasting that he had just unloaded four tickets for $180.
"I only paid $20 for them," he said, laughing.
Fans continued to arrive at the game throughout the first half, many of them delayed by the long lines at security checkpoints. By the time the second half rolled around and everyone who was coming had arrived, there were vast expanses of empty seats.
In section 409 in the upper deck, there were only 19 people in a section that holds 133. Next door in section 408, there were 30 occupied seats and 103 empty ones.
Down at courtside, somebody else was sitting in Spike Lee's seats. Same story in Woody Allen's usual spot.
"This is the worst I've seen it since I was in the league. And I was hustling for tickets today, too," Chicago guard Travis Best said. "I'm like 'Why was I doing that?' There were so many empty seats here."
The Knicks would need to sell out every game next season and the first half of the 2003-04 season to move into fourth place on the list of the NBA's longest sellout streaks, passing the 497 consecutive sellouts the Sacramento Kings had from October, 1985, to November, 1997.
The Portland Trail Blazers hold the NBA record of 814 consecutive sellouts from 1977-95.
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