HOW TO (quiet!) jump a bandwagon.
Charlotte isn’t the easiest city to be a sports fan in. Wait, that’s not fair. Let me rephrase that: Charlotte isn’t the easiest city to be a Charlotte sports fan in. At the Lakers-Bobcats game in February, a mini “M-V-P” chant broke out in section 221 every time Kobe stepped to the line. I would’ve complained about this at the time, but it was sort of refreshing to have a near capacity crowd in the arena actually excited about NBA basketball. You have to pick your battles, and I can’t get mad at transplants who aren’t ready to get on board with a below average NBA franchise. I get that. But there are other things, like the approximately 37 ½ Pittsburgh Steelers bars in Charlotte. Okay, so there’s only really three that I know of, but this still seems pretty high considering that this is, in fact, not the City of Pittsburgh. Also, I have personally been sshhh’d at pivotal moments of at least two Bobcat’s games by a well dressed, middle aged woman (yes, that one) who apparently went to the games to enjoy a nice chardonnay and avoid rabble rousing, maniacal hoops fans (Time Warner Cable arena must have a first class sommelier on staff that I wasn’t aware of). Had I the inclination, I would have gently reminded this super-fan that the Charlotte Jumper Classic was not in town that week, and that she was likely to find infinitely more comfortable and affordable seating accommodations from the comfort of her own home, but with it being the last moments of a tight ballgame and all, I digressed to the action. I have witnessed similar events at a Panther’s game also, but last week I was sshhh’d at a Radiohead concert. That’s a rock & roll show, folks. Come on Charlotte! Enough with the sshhh-ing!
As you may have noticed, Charlotte gets very little national exposure. I imagine people in other metropolitan areas think of Charlotte the way I think of Indianapolis. I know they have some sports teams, but I couldn’t tell you a damn thing about what else goes on in Indianapolis. I assume that Rik Smits has some sort of Dutch footwear superstore somewhere in the greater Indianapolis area, but that may just be a pipe dream (for both of us?). I also know that Jim Nabors, who was a C-list celebrity in the 60’s, annually sings at the opening of the Indy 500, which probably says quite a lot about the city of Indianapolis, actually. Anyways, this isn’t to pick on Indianapolis, because I’ve lived in Charlotte my whole life, and I don’t know a damn thing about what goes on here either. The Bobcat’s, as a microcosm of the city of Charlotte, get a similar amount of national exposure, which is to say almost none. Luckily due to my voracious appetite for popular culture though, I have been fortunate enough to catch a couple of exceedingly dubious Bobcat’s references recently. The first, which is the briefest yet the coolest, came courtesy of the acerbic Ari Gold from Entourage. In what is perhaps the greatest Ari tirade ever, Mr. Gold explains: “I didn’t go to the Lakers game ‘cause they were playing the f#@!ing Bobcat’s!”. Hey, that’s us! Which reminds me that those “M-V-P” chanters undoubtedly went to the Bobcat’s game only because we were playing the Lakers. Transplants!!! (Shakes fist at the sky menacingly).
Another “moment” I saw recently, which was much more gratuitous and certainly less flattering, was on the reunion special for… that’s right, The Flavor of Love 2. This was replayed last night; presumably as a precursor for the highly anticipated Flavor of Love 3 finale that must be coming soon (he hasn’t found true love yet? I know, its crazy right?) Anyways, what chic garb did Flav choose don for this most estimable of occasions? Of course it was a giant Sean May Bobcat’s jersey. The taping of this show likely took the better part of an afternoon, meaning that if Flav wore the jersey at least one other time, he’s spent about as much time in a Sean May Bobcat’s jersey as Sean May has. The Lakers have Jack, the Knicks have Spike, and the Bobcats have Flavor Flav in a Sean May jersey. Oh, and Kurt Busch (or is it Kyle Busch? Exactly).
A quick side note: As anyone who has been watching the playoffs already knows, the New Orleans Hornets have been, uh, liberally using the Ric Flair “Woooo!” to get the crowd into the game at strategic moments (read: every three minutes). I’m sorry, but that’s crossing the line. As if George Shinn hadn’t sucked enough blood out of the city, now they’ve hijacked Ric Flair?!? This is the latest injustice we’ve been dealt at the hand of our erstwhile franchise, one that’s exacerbated by the fact that the source of the Hornet’s meteoric rise to affluence is Winston Salem product Chris Paul, who could have been easily acquired with a package of our 5th and 13th picks in the 2006 draft, and who has recently looked like some unholy combination of Isiaih Thomas the player, Pistol Pete Maravich, and Anton Chigurh. But I guess that’s just sour grapes, and I’m happy that the city of New Orleans (my favorite place I’ve been in my limited travels) has had a winner to cheer for, even though Shinn will likely move the team, and inexplicably the Ric Flair “Woooo!”, to another city in five years. So enjoy the “Wooo!” New Orleans. It’s time for Charlotte to affect a new rally cry. I move that we too adopt an obnoxious catchphrase to play ad nauseam at our home games to pump the crowd up. Ladies and Gentleman, your 2008-2009 Charlotte Bobcats!!! (Cue Public Enemy’s “Night of the Living Baseheads”) “Yeeaaaah Boyyyeeeee!!!”.
But by far the most nocuous Bobcat’s moment I’ve seen recently was our inclusion on the top 10 plays of 2007-08 list on NBA TV. When I turned to the channel, they were already at play number five. As I watched the countdown I was trying to determine where the Ray Allen dagger would end up, surely there was a more spectacular play than that this year, right? As it turns out, there was not. I forgot just how ridiculous that play was. It was such an unbelievable collapse that I had just blocked it from my memory completely. Bobcats ball… up two… with five seconds left in the game. Inbound the ball and win. The saddest part of that play is watching Jeff McInnis flailing around hopelessly as the ball gets tipped back and forth over his head. Not only was that guy in the NBA… he started for our team. For half the season. My buddy Ronan and I were at that game, and helped represent a good 40% of the crowd that was actually pro-Bobcats. When that shot went in, the place half-erupted. It was sickening, it was impossible. How hard is it to get a ball in bounds to someone on your team? I mean they could’ve at least thrown the ball to the other end of the court and made the Celtics take a crazy half court shot, right? Approximately five seconds after that shot went in, Ronan turned to me and said, “We’re never talking about this game again”. It was too ridiculous for words. At the time I understood where he was coming from. I mean, it was embarrassing. Walking out of your team’s arena, listening to the majority of the crowd celebrate the visiting team’s victory? That shouldn’t be allowed to happen under any circumstances. And remember, this game was in November. This wasn’t the mid-late season Celtics with a banged up KG, nor was it the playoff Celtics with an invisible Ray Allen and a paralyzing fear of playing on the road. No, this was the white-hot, on-pace-to-set-all-time-records-Celtics who had only lost one or two games total. They were the 95-96 Bulls, and we beat them damn it! For 47 minutes and 55.3 seconds we beat them. And then, just like that, we didn’t. An interesting fact from that game was that Gerald Wallace was out. Before the game began we had rather objectively distinguished our chances at winning as remote at best, especially given that our star player and premiere defender was out of commission. We kept tight lipped throughout the entire game, careful not to get too optimistic at halftime when we were up, or after the third quarter, when we were up, or even with 3 minutes left, when we were up. But as soon as it got under 30 seconds I couldn’t hold it in anymore. You could see Bobcats fans starting to rub their hands together, and you could begin to hear murmurs of “we might actually pull this one out!” slowly passing through the arena. The Celtics fans had the look of “Holy s#*t, we might actually lose this one”, and nobody was brazen enough to talk one word of trash either way. And then boom, ball in, Jeff McInnis (I’d be remiss if I didn’t say: seriously? Jeff McInnis?) Ray Allen, ballgame. That’s one thing I’ll always remember about this season, about the whole Sam Vincent/Jeff McInnis era of Bobcat’s basketball: no matter how much the circumstances warranted it, no matter how sure you were of a win, you could never truly feel secure about the outcome of a game until it was absolutely, completely over. That one game perfectly crystallized the Sam Vincent era for me.
Now here we are on the eve of the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Celtics and Pistons are exactly where we thought they would be back in November. Ronan has regrettably (and inexplicably) positioned himself firmly on the Celtics bandwagon, an Anakin Skywalker-esque turn of face that left me no choice but to engage him in a gentleman’s wager over the outcome of this series. This year’s Celtics are a classic bandwagon team; a storied, big market franchise that has suddenly and drastically returned to prominence with very realistic championship aspirations. Even the team’s makeup has bandwagon elements, with vets P.J. Brown (a great Charlotte Hornet) and Sam Cassel joining the team for the playoff run. As much as I recoil in horror at the thought of Pistons-Spurs XXIV, and as much as I would love to watch my first Lakers-Celtics finals, I have to take a moral stance on this one (plus I think the Pistons have their number anyways). Our bet was made within the last three minutes of the Cavs-Celtics game, when the Cavs were only down by four or five; an impressive and admittedly ballsy move on his part considering that if the Cavs had won that game it would have been a moot point. As an unfortunate byproduct of the Celtics victory, Ro has taken to random Red Auerbach references and dropping non-sequiturs like “Havlicek stole the ball!” into conversations (which also happened, like, 18 years before I was born). He can’t be stopped; I mean he’s really committed to this bandwagon jump. Which is key, because once you jump, you can’t look back. I counter by evoking the ghosts of early 90’s Celtics “greats” such as Alaa Abdelnaby and Dino Radja; the latter of which for some reason makes for a surprisingly serviceable punch line. The Abdelnaby reference is the true gem though, because Alaa was on the Celtics team that was on the receiving end of the other famous last second shot in Charlotte-Boston history, the Alonzo Mourning 20-footer that sunk the Celtics and pushed the Hornets to their first conference semifinals. With the Bobcats again cutting the season off in April, as an NBA lifer, I had no choice but to align myself with a team as well, and snuck on to the Lakers wagon before it left the first round. So far this has been a pretty solid year for playoffs, but these conference finals match ups have the potential to elevate it to another stratosphere. Now Ssshhh!!! I’m trying to watch.