Bank shot: A sports writer and a superfan bond over Knicks basketball

Why We Wrote This

Sometimes it really is about who you know. Having a mentor with the right connections, who also acts as a confidant and friend, can make a lasting difference in a life.

Courtesy of Eileen Miller
Michelle Musler points out something to Knicks trainer Tim Walsh. Through the decades, Musler cultivated an authoritative courtside presence.

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Michelle Musler’s seats were located right behind the Knicks bench, allowing her an up-close view of the action and relationships with many important figures attached to the team. This meant that she was privy to valuable insider knowledge, and her near-constant presence at Madison Square Garden guaranteed that she would cross paths with sports writer Harvey Araton. The two became acquainted in the early 1980s, when he was an up-and-coming sports writer covering games for various New York publications. 

Musler wore many hats in her friendship with Araton. She started off as a reliable source for his stories and eventual column for The New York Times, but she was also a trusted confidant, a mentor, a cheerleader, and even a kind of mother figure.

They bonded over New York Knicks basketball, sitting courtside in Madison Square Garden. He was an up-and-coming sports writer, and she was a superfan and the single mother of five. The heart of their friendship was a love for the game. In his memoir, “Our Last Season: A Writer, A Fan, A Friendship,” Harvey Araton, who went on to write for The New York Times, shares the story of his decadeslong friendship with Michelle Musler. 

Musler was an unlikely basketball enthusiast. She became a single mother in her early 30s and only by fortuitous circumstances and sheer willpower was she able to go from worrying about paying her bills to running a successful consulting company. Her business provided her family with a stable life, and herself with a treasured pair of Knicks season tickets.

Her seats were located right behind the Knicks bench, allowing her an up-close view of the action and, largely because of her personable nature, relationships with many important figures attached to the team. This meant that Musler was privy to valuable insider knowledge, and her near-constant presence at Madison Square Garden guaranteed that she would cross paths with Araton. The two became acquainted in the early 1980s, when Araton was an up-and-coming sports writer covering games for various New York publications. Musler began feeding Araton tips that often gave him the scoop on a story or an angle that beefed up his pieces.

Courtesy of the Musler family
Michelle Musler and sports writer Harvey Araton visit Houston during the 1993-94 NBA championship.

Musler wore many hats in her friendship with Araton. She started off as a reliable source for his stories and eventual column for the Times, but she was also a trusted confidant, a mentor, a cheerleader, and even a kind of mother figure. The special attachment they shared lasted until her death in 2018.

In addition to personal details about their lives, the journalist discusses what he and Musler bonded over in the first place: Knicks basketball. He covers several eras of the franchise – mainly in the 1970s through his last shared season with Musler in 2017-18.  While much of the information will allow non-basketball fans to feel part of the action, he allows the level of Knicks-specific detail to bubble up to the point of inaccessibility to those not familiar with the sport, stopping short of being truly excessive. 

Looking beyond that, the book is downright charming and comes off precisely as intended: a tribute to a remarkable woman who played a tremendous role in the life of the author, and who was a largely unknown but highly influential on-the-sidelines figure during this period of Knicks basketball.

This is a memoir about life as much as about sports, although the ever-wise Musler would have likely argued that the two are inherently connected. As Araton recalls, she “loved sports because she always thought a single game, segmented into stages, was a microcosm of life, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.”

Penguin Random House
“Our Last Season: A Writer, A Fan, A Friendship” by Harvey Araton, Penguin Press, 256 pp.

So, too, it seems, can memoirs encapsulate our lives, in which endings frequently prove bittersweet. 

The author concludes by writing a touching letter to Musler, first bringing her up to date on the latest Knicks news she would be eager to hear, and informing her of the abrupt halt to sports as we know them while the world grapples with the coronavirus. But most importantly, in the letter he thanks her for the contributions to his life and work, and for the friendship that so deeply enriched his life. 

This heartfelt story of friendship is one to be savored.

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