Fan engagement in the NBA is a variable element among different basketball teams, comprised of several factors that determine its nature. These factors include the history of the team, the current status of the team, and the culture of the city the team represents.
There are some teams in the league that always seem to have a strongly engaged crowd, like the ones in Chicago or even – dare I say it – Toronto. When I went to see the Raptors earlier this season, I remember walking out of the Air Canada Centre livid over how strong the fan energy was, only because it reminded me of how strong the fan energy wasn’t back in DC. Plus, the guy standing outside the arena selling “F*ck Washington” shirts was a complete tool.
There’s the mildly engaged crowd, like the one in Miami. There, the fans fill up most of the seats but show up super-late in doing so. They also use that terrible fake crowd noise but I guess that means they’re trying, right?
Then there’s the type of fan engagement that exists at Wizards games, recently noted by WaPo’s Jorge Castillo to be “one of the worst.” Sadly, Jorge was not telling a lie. Embarrassingly, neither was John Wall:
So what exactly entails the description of being one of the worst crowds? Maybe it’s the kind of crowd that has created the embarrassing pregame ritual where various members of the media tweet a snapshot of the overflowing empty purple seats just moments before tip-off, leaving followers to wonder why they’re seeing a picture of a crowd watching a friendly between two alternative high school basketball teams on their timelines. Maybe it’s the kind of crowd that hates getting out of their seats even though the team needs them to be the most rowdy because there’s less than a minute left in the game and the Wizards need a game-making defensive stand.
Also, running out on to the floor before tip-off in front of like 78 fans who don’t even realize you’ve run out on to the floor probably blows. Hearing the crowd cheer emphatically for free chicken when they barely cheer otherwise probably blows. Moreover, hearing the crowd cheer emphatically for free chicken in the final minutes of the game when the team is down by 20 probably blows. And yes, that has been a real scene before, where the team is sulking in misery over a bad loss, but their fans are losing their minds trying to win a free chicken sandwich. That blows.
READ: THE Moment: Why The Wizards Have The Best Crowd in America
All John Wall forced laughs aside, these issues are real. The empty seats; the love for free chicken over the love for the team. All real. Real enough for the players to notice. Real enough to create the need for it to be addressed. Which is why I’m addressing it.
In this age of mass numbers and analytics, often times the human element of the game gets less factored, thus making the game robotic in a way. It’s okay to use analytics if you love it that much but if you do, you’re going to end up discounting variables such as the lack of fan energy and how it could possibly be affecting the players playing the game.
Anyone who has played organized basketball on any level will understand the firepower a viewing party can infuse. For example (a bad one), I am a human who once played in youth league basketball games in front of much smaller crowds and only in the 1st quarter because coach wanted to get my mandatory playing minutes out of the way. Even then, for the 10 or so insignificant minutes I was on the floor, somewhere in my soul was the crowd pleaser wanting to make a play just to impress a few people who were watching so they can remember me. Or maybe just to impress Krystal. God I wanted Krystal.
Now take this same crowd pleasing theory and apply it to humans that play basketball professionally and at the highest tier. Would you not expect those humans to want to play in front of cheering crowds of people that actually PAY to watch them in large arenas? Of course they do. For a good portion of players, that’s the ony reason why they play. There is, undoubtedly, a crowd pleaser in all of us, and there’s one in each one of those Wizards players.
*here comes the Jon Snow peroration*
So show up, but don’t just show up. Pay attention. Share your passion with your team joyously when they win, and weep with them sorrowfully when they lose. I know that in previous years, the Wizards never really deserved a passionate crowd. But in recent years, they really have. They’re a playoff team. They have a superstar. They have other uprising stars. Stop blaming Ernie or Ted for the reason you can’t cheer properly. These guys fight hard, and over the next 27 games, will be fighting harder to conquest an uphill battle back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Our brothers expect our support, so let us honor th–