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Let's discuss NBA fan culture


the admiral

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I missed the first Spurs/Thunder game in OKC but am watching tonight.

JESUS THIS FRIGGIN CROWD. It's high school and college basketball mixed with minor league baseball watching the most fun team since the mid-2000s Phoenix Suns. It doesn't seem fair.

No, it's not, but I have to watch Bulls games all year, where everyone sits politely and only cheers at appropriate, Jumbotron-instructed times. Some organic enthusiasm is a nice change of pace for the NBA, at the expense of Seattle as it may be. Thank your lucky stars that they're not incessantly banging cowbells like the Sacramento Kings fans of ten years ago.

I'm not actually (well, not entirely) bitter that they were Seattle's team. It's more just a general annoyance with the entire culture. I'm not familiar with it and I distrust it and it shouldn't be supporting the next great basketball franchise.

I feel like a lot of the backlash against the Oklahoma City crowd, that which doesn't relate to Seattle, has to do with the belief in a warped syllogism roughly along these lines:

1) College basketball is crappy.

2) People at college basketball games pride themselves on fostering an atmosphere of enthusiasm.

3) NBA basketball is not crappy.

4) Ergo, people at NBA games should be reserved and unconcerned with enthusiasm.

Nos. 1-3 are true, but I don't see why that means 4 must be as well. It seems like there's been a belief among serious NBA fans that a game is never to be about the fans, who are there to watch, respect greatness wherever it may be displayed, and go home. This is exemplified by Lakers and Knicks games, which literally put the spotlights on the players and the court. Personally, I love the way this looks, for them, but I think there's also something to be said for a vocally passionate crowd. Watching a half-empty arena with people mostly sitting on their hands through all the same tired-ass "ev-ry-bo-dy-clap-your-hands" and "thump-thump-D-fense" canned noise is just lukewarm death. With the Bulls, I feel like there's sort of an uncanny valley of fan experience where it is enjoyable for people who love sponsored nonsense, and people who just love to watch basketball, but kind of dull and staid for anyone in between. I don't get the impression that one is made to feel or encouraged to feel like Part Of Something at an NBA game. Maybe they should, because I don't know if anyone else has noticed, but there are some empty-ass NBA arenas these days.

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For the record, I enjoy enthusiasm at basketball games, be they collegiate or pro. ABut I don't enjoy I don't enjoy contrived enthusiasm. Or, put another way, contrived enthusiasm that Wal-Marts the most individualized and expressive of all pro sports.

I'm going to use jazz as analogy. The NBA is Miles Davis -- unique and not for everybody, but clearly the best talent and most opportunity for individualism. The NCAA is Winton Marsalis -- still talented, but a little more steeped in tradition, far more accessible, and strategically visible once a year. The fan experience at Oklahoma City is the theme song from Matlock. It has all the trappings of the genre, but wrapped up safely and devoid from any real innovation.

If it wasn't the Sonics, another team would be in Oklahoma City because people show up and cheer like hell for their team. Which is great. But for me personally, I don't like the way they cheer. They don't cheer like people who have followed a franchise for decades. They cheer like people who were given a complementary t-shirt, watch all of the video monitors, and were told to wear comfortable shoes because there's a little bit of walking between the parking lot and their seats. And the seats are probably wider than in other arenas.

So that's Oklahoma City.

To the rest of your point, most teams don't have anything to cheer for. And it's too damned expensive to go to NBA games. Unless you like one of six storied franches or one of two that's hot for a particular five-year run, you're better off playing Xbox.

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I don't understand why you hate Oklahoma City. It sucks that the Sonics moved (I know you said that's not entirely your reasoning for hating Oklahoma City fans), but at least they moved to a place where they are wanted.

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So fans being exited and enthusiastic about their team is wrong, but boring celebrity-field crap like Lakers games are good? Just another reason the NBA sucks and one of the reasons I like OKC. They actually cheer for their team and actually act like fans.

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So fans being exited and enthusiastic about their team is wrong, but boring celebrity-field crap like Lakers games are good? Just another reason the NBA sucks and one of the reasons I like OKC. They actually cheer for their team and actually act like fans.

I like the way Lakers games look. The lit court with the house lights down/off televises really well. The Lakers are so proud of their lighting setup that they consider it proprietary and don't let the Clips use it. Hah.

I'm going to use jazz as analogy. The NBA is Miles Davis -- unique and not for everybody, but clearly the best talent and most opportunity for individualism. The NCAA is Winton Marsalis -- still talented, but a little more steeped in tradition, far more accessible, and strategically visible once a year. The fan experience at Oklahoma City is the theme song from Matlock.

I'd be a liar if I said I didn't laugh out loud when I got to the Matlock part, but I would dispute the notion that the NBA is not for everybody because there was a time not too long ago when it very much was for everybody. People may think it's inaccessible, but that's because they've been on the wrong side of some pernicious and dumb propaganda from ESPN and CBS regarding the college game, where they browbeat their audiences into thinking every gawky white kid with a t-shirt under his jersey is a great athlete and better human being, and then from there you get into the diametric opposition to the other form of basketball. It's dumb, but highly persuasive. Still, an NBA game in and of itself is not some sort of inscrutable avant-garde performance art. I know this, because I am a NBA fan without being particularly learned on the inner workings of basketball, certainly not on the level that I am with baseball and hockey. But I still like it a lot!

As for the OKC crowds, I don't think they're as bovine as you make them out to be. No, they're not steeped in NBA tradition, but they're in their seventh-minus-one year of being in the league, during which time they've been treated to some generational talent in Chris Paul and Kevin Durant. I think it's safe to say that they have, to some extent, Picked It Up in earnest. I am willing to believe that there's legitimate grassroots enthusiasm surrounding this team. If anything, your description of a bunch of monitor-transfixed, corporation-comped fatasses more aptly describes the faithful who come to see the six-time world champions. Remember the time Kirk Hinrich was booed because he didn't score to break 100 points and get everyone a free Big Mac?

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The Lakers' crowd is an embarrassment. They're a storied franchise... the fans should act like it and actually cheer for the team. And don't even get me started about that "dramatic" lighting effect that really just hides how disinterested the crowd is. Give me the "Sea of Red" at Staples any day over the Lakers' funereal silence.

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As for the OKC crowds, I don't think they're as bovine as you make them out to be.

Got me there, I guffawed.

The Lakers' crowd is an embarrassment. They're a storied franchise... the fans should act like it and actually cheer for the team. And don't even get me started about that "dramatic" lighting effect that really just hides how disinterested the crowd is. Give me the "Sea of Red" at Staples any day over the Lakers' funereal silence.

Cue Rockstar Matt followup in 5, 4, 3....

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Love the OKC crowd. Pulling off the stripes is a good trick. I liked Indiana's gold-out, too.

As for the Bulls, they've been doing the "See Red" campaign for a while, and I got a free t-shirt when I last saw a playoff game two years ago vs. the Cavs. But there's no buy-in. Admittedly, I didn't put on the t-shirt, either, but I was already in all red anyway. But many of the lower level fans are a glitter and glamour costume jewelry nightmare. And they aren't putting a red t-shirt on over that crap. But I wish they would one day.

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There's actually a good reason why Laker games the fans sit on their hands and there's little "enthusiasm". It's because the most passionate Lakers fans really can't afford tickets and sit at home and watch the games. All the Lakers fans I know are extremely passionate, but can't afford to go to a game, let alone bring their families. The people who go to Lakers games tend to be people with money who go to be seen and not root for the team. It's kind of why I have a love/hate feeling about the Kings in the Cup Finals, more of these no-knowledge/no-caring fans will be coming out to Staples and ruining the experience for the real fans. I feel sorry for the true Lakers fans who would love to go to games but can't afford it.

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I like this discussion and agree it's weird how quickly (and recently) college basketball has supplanted/tinged the better game. Maybe it's residual effects of the Artest melee. I don't know.

I'll also be forthright that I'll never be a neutral observer of OKC fandom. I wish I could experience that team in my city and it sucks that I can't.

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I think the Pistons brawl had a little to do with cementing that the fans are not to be a "seventh man" or what have you, but the Everyone Everywhere Does Everything Great wheels of the NCAA-media complex had been in motion well before 2004.

Something else I've noticed is that there aren't really rivalries in the NBA the way we know them to be in the other three leagues + college. Who are the Bulls' rivals, for instance? Starting within the division, the Cavaliers, no. The Pacers, not really, no. The Bucks, hahahaha no. The Pistons, not really. The Knicks seem like they should be but they're not anymore. The Heat, I guess, but who doesn't have it out for the Heat, and even then, there's less unique enmity toward the superteam iteration of the Heat than there was for the prior iteration, where it seemed like James Posey kept hitting all our guys in the knees with a lead pipe and good god would someone just hurt them already.

Is this a function of the individual superseding the team, or is it that the NBA diehards fancy themselves too evolved for such simplistic tribalism, or is it both? In the case of the former, we barely even have that anymore, because all of the league's elite are best buds and have grown up together and want to play on the Miami Heat together. Or is this also an outgrowth of Pacers-Pistons, where we've all tacitly agreed not to take crap so seriously? As long as it doesn't devolve into riots--and really, it generally doesn't, and we've got nothing on the English in that regard--I love that intensity ratchets up for certain games. Over in the NHL, I love that a game against the Red Wings is going to be better hockey than almost anything you'll see anywhere else, and that a game against Vancouver is probably going to be a big sloppy hatefest. They can't all be perfunctory engagements or I won't want to watch all winter.

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I used to be one of those people that preferred college basketball over the NBA. Then I came to appreciate just how good NBA players are and how there's such a gap in the quality of play between college and the pros. I still love college basketball for what it is, but realize just what is. Now onto the topic of this hread, the atmosphere at college games is the one thing it does better than the NBA. I don't think that will ever change, given how the seats key to delivering that atmosphere are the most expensive and those people aren't normally the ones to bring the racous atmosphere. But it's nice to see that the fans in Oklahoma City are more passionate than pretty much the whole NBA when it comes to the in-game atmosphere. It would be nice to see some more arenas get some more life in them, especially come playoff time. The loudest an arena gets shouldn't be when the team wins you free Big Macs the next day.

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I used to be obsessed with the NBA until Jordan retired in 1998 and the lockout at the same time. After it returned at the beginning of 1999, I realized just how much it sucked now. It had changed so much since the glory days of Magic, Bird and Jordan. That is when I gradually started my disinterest. I mainly blame all the high school to NBA jumpers. The talent level dropped so much when guys who weren't mature enough yet were acting like they were top s***. There are fewer KGs, Kobe's and LeBrons than than there are those guys. That's why I'm for raising the age to 21 and 3 years out of high school. College Basketball allows those guys the chance to mature and improve while still in a controlled situation that allows them to still kind of be kids. And as far as the fandom, I just find it more exciting than the staleness of the NBA.

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Having worked for an NBA team for seven years....

NBA games aren't like other sporting events.....they're more like social gatherings. I don't watch enough other NBA games, but from the few I've watched, but they're similar to Atlanta in that the crowds are significantly larger after halftime than it is before halftime. Why? The high-rollers and celebrities aren't in their seats watching the game in the first half.....they're playing grabass in the club section or hanging out at the bars inside the arena. They may miss a highlight-reel dunk or two, but the games usually aren't as competitive in the first half as they are in the second.....so they simply aren't watching the game.

I guess the NBA fans in Oklahoma City haven't gotten this memo yet.

Something else I've noticed is that there aren't really rivalries in the NBA the way we know them to be in the other three leagues + college. Who are the Bulls' rivals, for instance? Starting within the division, the Cavaliers, no. The Pacers, not really, no. The Bucks, hahahaha no. The Pistons, not really. The Knicks seem like they should be but they're not anymore. The Heat, I guess, but who doesn't have it out for the Heat, and even then, there's less unique enmity toward the superteam iteration of the Heat than there was for the prior iteration, where it seemed like James Posey kept hitting all our guys in the knees with a lead pipe and good god would someone just hurt them already.

Is this a function of the individual superseding the team, or is it that the NBA diehards fancy themselves too evolved for such simplistic tribalism, or is it both? In the case of the former, we barely even have that anymore, because all of the league's elite are best buds and have grown up together and want to play on the Miami Heat together. Or is this also an outgrowth of Pacers-Pistons, where we've all tacitly agreed not to take crap so seriously? As long as it doesn't devolve into riots--and really, it generally doesn't, and we've got nothing on the English in that regard--I love that intensity ratchets up for certain games. Over in the NHL, I love that a game against the Red Wings is going to be better hockey than almost anything you'll see anywhere else, and that a game against Vancouver is probably going to be a big sloppy hatefest. They can't all be perfunctory engagements or I won't want to watch all winter.

Yeah, there's not too many "team-vs-team" rivalries in the NBA. The only rivalry that comes to mind is Lakers-Celtics, and even that rivalry is more for old time's sake than it is today's fervor. It's all about individual-vs-individual in today's NBA. It's "Kobe vs. Rose" or "Boston's Big Three vs. Miami's Big Three", etc.

Today's superstars are nowhere near as tough as the NBA superstars of the past. Today's guys are so afraid or losing and so cognizant of their reputations that they won't compete in the dunk contest. It's gotten to the point where LeBron stands in the corner while someone else takes the final shot. Joe Johnson disappears when the game's intensity goes up.

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I still consider the Knicks the Bulls' top rival, with the Pistons right behind. Those games mean a little something extra for me, especially when both teams are decent. I agree that the NBA doesn't do much to sell rivalries beyond Lakers-Celtics these days.

With the Pacers officially "back," that could elevate the NBA-emphasized regional rivalry (this year's preseason games). I think the Bucks need to ramp up the Bulls rivalry. They could position themselves as a viable alternative to northern Chicagoland. Of course, they need to get better first.

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But by saying "let everyone be individuals," you're still taking a side. By default you're against group displays like OKC's. Honestly, I'm surprised they get the buy-in they do.

Certainly everyone is free to choose how they want to support their team. I just wish the folks wanting to be seen in the lower level at Bulls games would choose to go red. They can pick the most expensive red combo in their closet for all I care, but it'd be nice if they joined the effort.

Or maybe the Bulls should just abandon the "See Red" campaign and go with something tailored to their fanbase. Not sure what that movement would be.

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How 'bout you root for your team the way you want to root for it, and you let other people root for their teams the way they want to root for them.

Boom. Done.

How 'bout you let us discuss our opinions.

Boom. NOW Done.

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I've been to 1 NBA game. It was last year game 3 of the Nuggets-Thunder series in Denver. The Nuggets trailed by a lot, but came back to tie or take the lead (I can't remember), but ultimately lost. So, it wasn't a boring game by any means. However, and this could just be because it was Denver, Colorado in another first round loss, the atmosphere inside the Pepsi Center felt forced and empty. Seriously, I've been to regular season Columbus Blue Jackets games where the energy from the fans was higher. I was so unimpressed that it kind of ruined the experience for me.

Here's what I think it is: In basketball, moments like a goal or touchdown scored from midfield or a home run are rare. A ten point comeback is explained by 2 minutes of tedious play so you can anticipate it coming. Once it does happen there's no surprise. You can literally read it on the scoreboard. It's quantitative. There's rarely that euphoric moment like a goal or a home run that you did not see coming so there's rarely a moment to stand up and cheer for a pleasant surprise. Basically, it's a sport that delivers its own spoilers. And I find it incredibly difficult to get excited for a play that will ultimately be 1/50th of the total point output for a team. Oh a guy dunked over somebody? That looks cool and I bet it's really hard to do, but they still need to score 40 more points to win this game!

Also, the first 43 minutes of an NBA game are meaningless. So fans really don't even need to waste their time getting worked up for that part of the game.

Disclaimer: I will admit that I'm biased because I think the very idea of basketball is one of the most overrated things in this world. I have baseball and hockey. Two borderline perfect things. That's all I need.

Here's another thing: the people who cover the NBA (Skip Bayless, Stephen A. Smith, Barkley) are the biggest buffoons in sports. They might as well be wrestling commentators. I can't follow a sport where the coverage is that terrible.

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