08 May 2007

Double Trouble

Part the First: Holding Down the Fort
Now that I'm out of school, I've had a chance to catch up on the internet reading that I neglected to do during the academic year. In so doing, I discovered this great piece by Bill Simmons about the power of home-court advantage. The following snippet particularly stands out to me:

Once upon a time, the Celtics had the most significant home-court advantage thanks to 15,000 savvy hoop lunatics crammed into an overheated lunchbox. Since I was blessed with the chance to attend most of their pivotal games during the Bird Era, you have to believe me on this one -- we swung the outcome of six series ('81 Sixers, '84 Lakers, '87 Bucks, '87 Pistons, '88 Hawks and '91 Pacers) in which superior opponents failed to handle the mythical combination of Bird and the Garden. Off the top of my head, I can remember 20-25 games in which we carried the team to a higher place.

Now, you're saying to yourself, "Doesn't every crowd do that?"

Actually, no. More than in any other sport, the fate of a basketball game hinges on the connection between players and fans. Last year, you could have dressed in white, headed to a big Miami game, stood and cheered at all the predictable spots and convinced yourself that you impacted the game ... but you really didn't. You did exactly what you were expected to do, nothing more. You obeyed the giant video screen, followed the musical cues and served your purpose. In other words, you were just like every other NBA crowd.

Why does that resonate well with me? Two Thursdays ago, minutes before tipoff Orlando's first home playoff game since 2003, the in-arena "entertainers" gave a lesson on how to be a fan. Host Scotty B. encouraged the crowd to bang their ThunderStix together loudly, to cheer the Magic enthusiastically, and to boo the Pistons relentlessly. Yes, someone on the Magic's payroll was asked to write a pregame bit on how to cheer.

Somehow, I don't think the Pistons have that same problem; they're able to spend their P.R. money on coming up with playoff slogans that aren't hospital code for imminent loss of life. Pistons fans know how to cheer. I witnessed it first-hand in Game 3 because there was no shortage of Pistons fans in attendance, especially not in the upper bowl. Before, during, and after the game, Magic fans were treated to chants of "DEEEEEEEEE-TROIT BASKETBALL!" and, whenever Rasheed Wallace did anything worth noting, "SHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEED!"

This post is not my first about the subject of fandom in Orlando, so excuse the redundancy. But I think the organization's decision to devote some pregame time to teaching fans how to behave speaks volumes about the lack of vocal fans at Magic games. It's also insulting for those fans who are passionate about their team. When the presentation started, my father put down his hamburger, looked at me, and said, "Are you hearing this? They're teaching us how to cheer?" Dad's been a Yankee fan since birth and a Magic fan since the organization's inception. He knows how to cheer. I suppose the same can't be said for some Magic fans, even at playoff games, and that's a damn shame.

Part the Second: An Endorsement
In the week-plus that the Magic have been eliminated, I've watched a handful of playoff games, and I've seen each playoff team compete at least once. After much DVR-ing, it is with great pleasure that I heartily endorse the Golden State Warriors in their quest for the championship. Their upset of Dallas was historic and a joy to watch, especially in Game 6, in which they pounded the Mavericks by 25 at home and the crowd at Oracle Arena remained standing for the entire second half of the game. Last night's game against Utah was an exciting, tremendous, back-and-forth affair that came down to the final minute. Former Magic player Matt Harpring, now a key reserve for the Jazz, pulled down a critical rebound with seven seconds remaining, then hit the icing free throws for the game's final points. I was sad because the Warriors lost, but also happy that I just watched an incredible game.

So, Magic fans, if you're still looking for your NBA fix even after our team has been eliminated, I urge you to jump on the Warriors' bandwagon. It'll be a hell of a ride.

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