America is a country of sports fans. The three biggest sports are gridiron football, basketball, and baseball. Having experienced the insanity of college football, I set my eyes on the NBA, attending the December 1st game between the Golden State Warriors and Indiana Pacers at Oracle Arena in Oakland. For those unfamiliar with the nomenclature, California is sometimes called "the Golden State", and the Warriors are the local Bay Area team.
NBA teams play several times a week, adding up to 82 games a season - before adding in playoffs! This is in sharp contrast to the more bruising gridiron, where the season ticks by one game per week and less than 20 per year. However, all pro sports in America share a "conference" system, where the teams are divided into regions that compete for playoff spots, before advancing to knock-out games between the ultimate winners of each region. With over 30 teams, this seems an appropriately fair way to run things.
The level of support for sport in America is astounding. The vast majority of the 20,000 seat arena was filled for the game, with raucous music, shouting, ice-cream and drink sellers in amongst people jostling to get to their seats. I thought Australians loved sport. But Americans love watching sport, and they love watching it live.
The Golden State Warriors actually have an Australian player - centre Andrew Bogut, recently traded from Milwaukee. Unfortunately, Bogut is currently injured, and did not participate in the game. Warriors fans seem to think that he's a great player - he just need to recuperate and get back on the court.
The game itself was an entertaining affair - I could appreciate the skill of the players as the dribbled, stepped, spun, and shot their way through. I still don't understand the foul system at all (as best I can tell, it's just totally arbitrary), but basketball moves fast, and keeps moving. In the end, the Warriors edged out the Pacers 103-93, built primarily on a burst of accurate scoring right after half time. The double digit buffer from this was never lost, greatly pleasing the home crowd.
Unlike football, basketball moves forward with relatively minimal interruptions. Advertising at basketball is typically of the more subtle background billboard variety, as opposed to the in-your-face televised kind in gridiron. The breaks (due to timeouts or quarter breaks) are filled with a crazy variety of entertainment and ritual, including:
- the American national anthem, performed by an acapella group called "The Singing Priests". Members of the Coast Guard were holding the flag during the anthem
- multiple cheerleader routines at varying levels of clothing skimpiness
- a junior dance group performance (thankfully properly clothed)
- live band and DJ sets, with particularly good (or bad) dancers in the crowd highlighted on the big screens
- a trick-shooting brigade, where shooters in turn sprinted towards the basket and hurled themselves into the air via a trampoline, doing flips and such before dunking the ball. As the spectacle continued, they began passing the ball back to the next person running; the grand finale involved the whole team passing, catching, and flipping before a final dunk
- a boys and girls basketball match during halftime. The boys were much bigger than the girls, and so the girls were unsurprisingly walloped. By the end of their game, the crowd was roaring when the girls had the ball, and practically silent when the boys did
- a t-shirt giveaway, with guys on tricycles riding around the court, and firing t-shirts high into the crowd using modified air guns
- a pizza giveaway, with free pizzas given to loudly cheering people in the crowd
As an aside, there are some poor chaps at the game whose job it is to wipe away the sweat of players who have fallen to the court. I don't envy them, but I suppose if you're a big basketball fan it's a good way to get an amazing view from courtside.
Finally, the highlight of the game was probably this amazing shot from Jarret Jack. As the clock ticked to zero at the end of the third quarter, Jack found himself with three-quarters of the court between himself and the basket. No problem! He launched the ball and sunk an incredible 3-point shot, clean as a whistle. What a spectacle to see live!