Two Mondays ago as I was checking into the Westin hotel in downtown Charlotte, I felt a large shadow dim my light and looked up to see all 7 feet of dubious number two draft pick Darko Milicic looming behind me to ask the front desk for something. Turning around fully, I witnessed most of the Minnesota Timberwolves milling about in casual, pre-athletic dress in the lobby and noted the team's make-up of recent NCAA tournament stars including Micheal Beasley, Corey Brewer and Kevin Love.
I haven't followed the NBA really since high school and the glory days of Michael Jordan, so this roster of the Timberwolves was news to me and kindled my interested as a dedicated fan of the NCAA tournament. I decided to hit up the Charlotte Bobcats game that night to take in my first NBA game in probably 5 years, but it could be 6.
My Charlotte-resident colleagues advised that the Bobcats were courting a relatively poor product despite a spiffy new arena and more side-show pageantry than you could shake a stick at, and that I could probably scalp tickets after tip-off at significant discounts. This was true to the tune of about 80% off the face value.
So we sat down with a couple of beers amid a crowd that could only have been 25-30% full. A couple of things stood out in the experience:
*There's a lot of gimmickry put up to market bad basketball. I remember the Washington Wizards game I went to in 2005 where the world's bendiest boy was brought out at half time and emerged from a small, plexi-glass case, did some contortions and then went back into the case. They also had a small, RC blimp that went around over the crowd dropping free tickets and, I swear to god, the odd $100 bill. At the Bobcats' game it was more of the same, including the beloved hotdog cannon, but the blimp didn't drop a thing and our half-time show was a ridiculous bunch of dancing poodles on loan from the UniverSoul Circus.
*Michael Jordan owns a significant share of the Bobcats (I'm too lazy to look up exactly what it is) and sat with his girlfriend next to the team on the bench. His posture was surly and removed most of the game, true to the form of his reputation as a big asshole, even when the Bobcats were coming back to win late in the 4th quarter.
*The Bobcats play in a really great arena with all the creature comforts and the basketball was actually pretty competitive between two of the NBA's worst teams. Too bad they can't do more to charge up the crowd and fill the seats, but I suspect all the poodles and hotdog cannons in the world won't do it.