Last week I went to see the Atlanta Hawks take on the Brooklyn Nets ‘at home’. I’ve put the words ‘at home’ in inverted commas because the match actually took place in the O2 (it would have been quite some trek to go to Atlanta to see a Basketball game). The decision to go was slightly on impulse as I’ve never actually seen a full game of professional basketball. Still, making the trip down to London from York was well worth it, even if my technical knowledge of the sport doesn’t extend much beyond watching York’s first team once.
Apart from the obvious education I gained from watching a bunch of seven foot giants (or at least that’s what it looked like from the stands) playing professional basketball in the highly competitive NBA league, I grew to appreciate the American way of hosting a sports fixture. I think there are a lots of things the Brits can take from it.
Ok, maybe we won’t all be so keen on singing our national anthem at every single regular league game even though it is a bit of a tune, but there are so many things the Americans do that spice up a fixture. At almost every single lengthy stoppage there was some form entertainment to keep the audience captivated, from a live DJ to the dreaded dance cam that prowls through the crowd looking for victims to show off their talent (fortunately for 17,000 odd people I didn’t have to bust a move in front of the camera).
The efficiency with which all this entertainment is done is quite something. The moment the organisers sense a lengthy stoppage the cheer leaders or the mascot are out to entertain everyone (and by the way, these mascots are genuinely good at what they do and don’t do something awkward that makes you cringe a little). And I’m a big fan of them throwing free shirts into the crowd (I wish I’d known they were going to do that before I blew a small whole in my bank balance buying a Hawks shirt before tip off).
There are a few things that at times feel a bit unnecessary when it comes to entertainment. For instance, at one stage three ex-NBA players, none of which I knew of, came on, waved, stood there for a while whilst the crowd applauded them simply for being who they were, and then left. Talk about milking the applause.
Perhaps we should learn from the way Americans do sporting events. Too many of our half time shows, I feel, are a budget effort and no one is in the least bit interested. At an NBA game, the entertainment is almost as important as the basketball. However, too much entertainment can take away from the key focus of the event – which is the actual sports fixture itself. I can understand the argument one would make for keeping it simple and showing sport in its purest form.
The first half of the encounter was gripping, with the scores relatively even throughout. The Nets were the overwhelming pre-match favourites, after Al Horsford, the star offensive player for the Hawks, was out with a nasty injury sustained back in December.
It turned out that the vital point came as early as the end of first quarter, with the Hawks trailing by only 2 points. However, with the last chance of the quarter, Joe Johnson gave the Nets a 31-27 lead and the mental edge of their opponents, whom they had already beaten earlier in the month.
Though the Hawks kept it tight throughout the second quarter, they were never able to convincingly pull into the lead and were always playing catch up. In the third and fourth the Nets simply had too much class and in the end ran out comprehensive 127-110 winners, with Kevin Garnett putting on quite a show.
Maybe I should have been a glory hunter and supported the better side, but I’d rather choose the underdog over the Basketball-equivalent of Chelsea (Russian owned and rich).
Certainly the fixture was like no other that I’d ever been to before, and though I know a lot more about Rugby it is certainly up there with some of my best experiences of Twickenham. The Americans sure know how to host a sporting event.