Hot dogs, screaming fans, cheerleaders and quality sports – is there anything about an NBA game that doesn’t sound fun?
I like basketball, although I’ve never had much interest in the NBA bar watching Space Jam a few times. But basketball is a big part of American sporting culture and I wanted to check it out – just as a visitor to Australia should see an AFL match and if you’re in Canada, you need to get yourself to a ice hockey game. Events like this aren’t so much about the sport, but the atmosphere. Sports fan or not, it’s near impossible not to get caught up in the action and enjoy yourself.
The Golden State Warriers (based in Oakland) didn’t have a home game while I was in San Francisco, so I boarded the Greyhound for the two-hour trip to Sacramento for the Sacramento Kings v Utah Jazz game. Note to anyone thinking of checking out a game here: the stadium is not remotely close to the city and there is no after-hours public transport. So unless you want to fork out for a $70-return taxi trip, I’d do you best to find someone going to the game who can give you a lift. Luckily for me, my CouchSurfing host had a friend going to the game so I scored a ride there and back.
Apparently the games used to sell out regularly, but about seven years ago the Kings started playing pretty poorly and the fans lost faith. Even though the team is doing better, it’s nothing impressive and the fans have yet to get fully back on board. It wasn’t helping that the team was considering moving, a decision that was officially put on the back-burner this week when the Mayor announced a new arena will be built for the Kings, closer to the city.
I found my seat at the end of the first quarter and found the atmosphere lived up the the stereotype. I was surrounded by fans holding pretzels, giants cups of Pepsi and yelling at nearly every call the ref made. Vendors selling pizza and fairy floss trolled the aisles, just in case your super-super size meal wasn’t enough. On the court the game moved fast. Really fast. There wasn’t more than two points in it for most of the game. If one team got the edge, it lost it just as quickly. But the game almost seemed to come second to the shenanigans that went on during time-outs and the period breaks.
As soon as the ref called time-out, the media would flock to the court for a presentation for Black History Month, a cheque donation, to say happy birthday to a guy who’s had the same court-side seat since the arena opened, or a visit from the Mayor. It was the last event that had me hugely confused. This guy comes onto the court and the crowd goes crazy. Turns out it’s the Mayor. Rightio. Don’t think the mayors back home get that kind of reaction. I found out later the Mayor is Kevin Johnson, a former NBA All-Star and also the man behind the new stadium deal the King fans are all excited about.
At half-time the antics continued. Musical chairs with people in giant Pepsi, Dr Pepper and Mountain Dew costumes, dances from the cheerleaders, free stuff for the crowd…it went on. On court the game stayed close. With less than a minute to go there was still only two points in it – with the Kings in front. A few penalties and some quick shooting and their lead went out to six points by end of the game.
Interested in checking out an NBA game while you’re on the move? I booked tickets through Ticketmaster and picked them up at the venue before the game. My ticket was about $50.