His Garden of dreams became a reality.
Fun was Andres Puerta’s business, as was making memories for others. In the process, he had the time of his life and walked away with a lifetime’s worth of memories of his own from working for the New York Knicks.
For eight years, 4 Pennsylvania Plaza — better known as Madison Square Garden — was Puerta’s workplace. Put the letters “w-o-r-k” in a small, light typeface because although it was work, it was a labor of love.
Even now, upon reflection, Puerta, 31, a Colombian immigrant and former Greenport High School athlete (basketball and soccer), marvels at the experience he had working for the Knicks in event presentation as a member of their 7th Ave. Squad.
“That was always a dream for me, being a part of the Knicks organization,” he said in a phone interview from Dallas, his new home.
So, how does a young man from the small Village of Greenport end up performing at “The World’s Most Famous Arena”?
Well, it started with the New York Mets. Puerta did game day entertainment with the Mets in 2012 before his boss connected him with the Knicks.
That’s when his remarkable journey began, working for the 7th Ave. Squad, a team within a team that entertains and interacts with fans. The squad, which can include actors, specialty dancers, tumblers, breakdancers and others, looks for charismatic and energetic performers to amp up the energy at games.
Puerta fit the bill.
You got to come with that positive energy every day, and that’s the kind of person [Puerta] is.”Brendan Callahan
An NBA game is more than just a basketball game. It’s an event. The 7th Ave. Squad handles a variety of activities, from shooting T-shirts into the stands to contests to halftime shows. And there was more to Puerta’s job, like player appearances, shopping sprees for needy families during the holidays, visiting children in hospitals and participating in basketball camps.
“Oh man, they paid me to have fun, literally, to have fun and to watch basketball,” he said. “So, for me, I’m a kid from Colombia coming to the United States, you know, growing up watching the Knicks, and just being at the Garden, it was just like amazing … Each night it was something different. I didn’t know what was going to happen or who I would meet.”
MSG is a place where stars shine. “I think the most important thing is just the talent that walks through that building night in and night out,” said Puerta.
In his time at MSG, Puerta had an up-close view of great NBA players like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. He met his favorite Knicks player, Patrick Ewing, and crossed paths with possibly the greatest Knick of all time, Walt “Clyde” Frazier, currently an MSG Network color commentator. Puerta said, “When I’m walking by [play-by-play announcer] Mike Breen and Clyde, and I’m on the court where they are, sometimes I think, ‘What am I doing here?’ ”
One time, Puerta recalled, he was standing next to an athletic-looking man wearing sunglasses. Later, someone told him it was professional boxer Floyd Mayweather.
Along celebrity row he saw familiar faces: Beyoncé, Spike Lee, Tracy Morgan, Jimmy Fallon, Ben Stiller, Chris Rock …
The list goes on and on.
“I’m Colombian,” he said, “I’m going to take it to the roots — Shakira.”
Although he couldn’t give an exact figure, Puerta estimated he worked over 300 Knicks games. Of course, that doesn’t include related work he did at MSG, including the 2014 Stanley Cup final between the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers, college basketball, tennis and boxing.
Brendan Callahan, the Knicks’ former director of fan development and community relations, said: “You got to come with that positive energy every day, and that’s the kind of person [Puerta] is.” Callahan, whose family has a home in Mattituck, said Puerta was “always in a good mood, always looking to help and give back and make a difference, and any time he was in the crowd, he was having fun.”
Puerta’s time with the Knicks ended on Jan. 26, 2020 (the same day Bryant died in a helicopter crash).
“I did everything I could in the garden,” he said. “I just wanted to test out the water somewhere else and I had an opportunity with the Mavs.”
Puerta said right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, he flew to Dallas to pursue a job opportunity with the Mavericks. Now, though, things are on hold because of the pandemic. He hasn’t stopped dreaming, though.
“Just dream big and chase your dreams,” Puerta said. “I chased mine.”
One never knows where it will lead.