Sunday, March 22, 2009

What's that geek doing at an NBA game?

Published March 22, 2009
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

So, Utah has a professional basketball team. I don’t know if you realized. They’re called the Jazz. They wear blue and play their games in the Energy Solutions Arena (sponsor Energy Solutions: Send Your Nuclear Waste to Utah! We Have Room!). I know all of this because this past Tuesday I sat in this very arena and watched the Jazz beat the Washington Wizards, 103 to 88.

I know what you’re thinking. Utah has a basketball team and it’s not called The Apostles? I kid. You’re wondering what a confirmed geek like Sarah Clark was going at a Jazz game. (I KNOW!) The answer is simpler than the apocalyptic scenarios you’re imagining. The tickets were given to my husband by his boss, and I am very cheap. Our usual Tuesday night date costs us a whopping $2, and free is smaller than 2, so there you go.

I entered the event with more than a little bit of trepidation. I, Sarah Clark, who cares less about professional sports than anyone I know, including dead people, was going to sit amongst thousands of screaming fans and pretend I belonged there. I might as well have been a backwoods hillbilly at a country club cotillion. I decided to chalk it up to a learning experience, and learn I did!

For instance, I learned professional sports games are all about mob mentality. The Jazz score? Everyone screams, “Yeeeeaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!” Other guys score? Everyone says, “Awwwwwwwwwwwww.” Ref calls a foul in our favor? “Yeeeeaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!” Other team’s favor? “Booooooooooooooo!” This was very helpful for me at the beginning of the game when I realized, to my great consternation, both teams were wearing similar colors and I had no idea which were the Jazz. I know there’s some rule about jerseys and home vs. away games, but I can’t be expected to know that. (See above: Things I care about even less than dead people do.)

It makes some amount of sense for fans to shout at the teams and refs en masse. It made for an exciting game and might have encouraged the players to work harder (and the refs to leave in armored vehicles). What I couldn’t understand were the people in the nosebleed section shouting instructions to individual players 35,000 feet below them. I do understand that people shout at players from their living rooms with absolutely no chance the player will hear, so I give the woman with the banshee yell in section 128 credit for actually purchasing a ticket for her shouts to go unheard.

The fervor of fans is helped along by the people in charge of the game. There are all sorts of shouts, songs, and clap cadences every fan is supposed to know. For a newbie like me, this was intimidating! Throughout the game, at seemingly random intervals, an organ played a two note sequence over and over and fans shouted some two syllable word along with it. We were at a loss. Were they saying, “Reflex?” “Deflect?” “Defense?” We finally settled on Aflac and shouted it merrily for the rest of the game.

Shouting the name of a commercial company makes sense, because in professional sports, everything is sponsored. Throughout the game, an LED display kept us informed of the many companies wishing to have their names on this piece of history. It was nice to see that Workers Compensation Fund of Utah was a game sponsor. They sponsored my knee surgery, which I hear was a very lively event.

A few other points of interest: During every time out, while people all across America are watching instant replays and listening to boring commentators, Jazz fans are dancing in the aisles like crazy people for a chance at free fast food. While players are concentrated on one end of the court, an amazingly energetic little man is running a Swiffer across the other end. No matter how confirmed a person is in her geekdom, she will be swept away in the excitement of the crowd and begin screaming like a lunatic just like everyone else.

In my defense, I was screaming for the Swiffer guy, but still…