I don’t know what’s worse, really – The fact that I’d lived my entire life without once attending an NBA game or me planning my weekend around something I read in a Rick Reilly column. Both are ignominious distinctions to be sure. But I was intrigued by Reilly’s column on ESPN.com a couple of weeks ago, whereupon he argued that the economy was actually making professional sports more affordable than ever before.
You see, most folks bought their 2009 season tickets well in advance of the market fallout in Sept. 2008, leaving them no choice but to balm their festering bank accounts by selling off their seats. And since these folks are so desperate to move these tickets, they’ll sell them for pretty much anything. And that’s where I come in.
Two weeks ago, inspired by Reilly’s logic, I logged on to StubHub.com and snagged a couple of Atlanta Hawks tickets for less than a third of their face value. Good seats, too – lower bowl, about 24 rows off the floor. I’m beginning to think that maybe this Reilly guy’s on to something.
But what’s a trip to Atlanta without staying in one of those glittering high-rise hotels? I decided to try my luck with that Priceline.com business, as I’ve always been a fan of Bill Shatner’s work. As it turned out, I “negotiated” the downtown Hilton (during ACC Championship weekend, mind you) down to $70 for a one-night stay. That’s just $20 per star!
So for the cost of two face-value NBA tickets, I got the same tickets and a posh hotel room, with enough left over for a pre-game Sunday brunch. I felt like freakin’ Rachael Ray out there. It was a quite an exciting turn of events, even if it did vindicate Mr. Reilly and his over-priced, over-simplified 800 words per week.
Taking in a late season NBA game is a perfectly acceptable, if not preferable, way to kick off basketball’s most important week of the year. This week marks the beginning of the NCAA Division I-A basketball tournament, a.k.a. “March Madness” or “The Big Dance”. More eyes will be tuned in, more money wagered and more interest paid to the roundball than at any other time throughout the year. The Big Dance, like the Super Bowl, is one of only a handful of sporting events that possesses the Rasputin-like ability to corral the interest of people who otherwise have no interest in sports. They say there are no atheists in foxholes – well, there are no laissez faire basketball fans in March, either.
But before we get to the tournament, a few words about the city of Atlanta. First of all, I hate Atlanta. No city in the history of Western Civilization has tried so hard and fallen so short of being a real-life, international, cosmopolitan town. They took L.A.’s traffic, Las Vegas’ water supply, Houston’s highway grid, rural America’s fascination with methamphetamine and a giant airport and made it into a tourist destination. There’s no heart to the place, no vibe. It’s dead inside. Not like Chicago or New York or even Nashville – every one of those cities has a distinct feel that you pick up once you step off the plane and leave behind once you climb back on. In Atlanta, I just don’t feel it. It’s like the fake Rock Ridge from Blazing Saddles; you get the feeling if Slim Pickens gave Peachtree Center a swift kick, the whole thing would topple over like dominos.
This terminal condition of façade maintenance manifests itself most egregiously when Atlanta hosts a sporting event. Atlanta has managed to luck its way into tantric sports – high-level sporting events take place there all the time. Every major pro sport is represented – save for MLS. Since they are in proximity to both ACC and SEC teams, they host championships for both. And, of course, there have been Final Fours, Super Bowls and the Olympics. But here’s the thing about Atlanta sports fans: They don’t give a flying fig care about their sports teams.
Take the Hawks game this weekend. Philips Arena was little more than half-full at tip-off time, and as soon as the ball was put into play and Portland gained possession, the crowd sat on its hands…for two hours. Every now and again a nifty pass or a dunk would bring out a modest rise, but you could here a pin drop in between. And that scene is not exclusive to the Hawks. Have you been to Turner Field for a Braves game? Or did you sell your tickets to an opposing team’s fan as well?
But that’s enough about Atlanta. Society has bigger problems, like this wave of prepubescent girls lining up to shake booty to suggestive music at sporting events. This ends here, people. Two dance troupes of middle-school girls “performed” on court at Philips prior to tip-off to the delight of their delusional parents and whatever pedophiles were in attendance. The lyrics they awkwardly gyrated their 9-year-old frames to would have, as Krusty the Clown once famously claimed, embarrassed Redd Foxx.
And what am I supposed to do when they finish? Clap? I don’t think so. The whole performance felt like a “To Catch a Predator” sting operation, I wasn’t about to clap like I was enjoying myself. This experience strengthened my resolve to not have children, as I’m pretty sure I’d have to pick at least one of them up from The Furnace on my way to work in the morning.
Anyway, March Madness is here. And since Alabama State was the only team from our neck of the woods to garner an invite to the Dance, we’re stuck following the National Invitation Tournament for the next few weeks.
The NIT is a consolation tournament for the 32 next-best teams who couldn’t punch their ticket to the Dance. Auburn and UAB both snagged NIT invites last weekend, the Tigers locked down a No. 1 seed, while UAB clocked in at No. 7. There’s not much to be excited about when it comes to the NIT. Most of the games are broadcast on ESPN, which would be nice if CBS wasn’t simultaneously broadcasting the NCAA Tourney on its family of networks. The games are played at the higher-seeded school’s home venue, which eliminates the fun of traveling to a regional site for a two-day slate of games. And then there’s perhaps the most unpalatable caveat of the NIT – technically, who ever wins the thing is still only the 66th best team in the country. So have fun Auburn and UAB. You, uh…earned it?
As it is, after the Madness subsides and sanity makes a comeback, focus will shift back where it’s most comfortable in this state, football. News came down from the mount in Bristol, Conn., a couple of weeks ago that Alabama’s spring football game – which famously drew a sellout two years ago – will be televised live on ESPN. It’s essentially a glorified practice, yes, but it is televised football. In April, no less. Now that’s madness a Southern man can appreciate.