I think one of the biggest reasons some people
foolishly prefer the college game over the NBA is because of the passion -- not only from the players* but also from the fans. Nothing beats the atmosphere of an intimate college gym filled with rowdy undergrads cheering their team and harassing the opponent.
[* Not that NBA players don't have passion -- that's another misconception. World-class athletes make the game look so easy, no matter what the sport, that it's easy to assume they're holding back. It's why Usain Bolt can set world records and still be criticized for taking it easy. But I digress.]
Last year, Andrew Bogut of the Milwaukee Bucks realized this, and decided to create a special cheering section in which he gave 50 of Milwaukee's loudest, rowdiest fans free tickets in the lower bowl to all 41 home games -- with one catch: the fans had to come to every game, stand the entire contest and cheer like hell, essentially turning at least one corner of the usually drowsy lower bowl into a college gym. FanHouse's Chris Tomasson wrote about this last season:
Bogut is buying 100 tickets per game this season at the top of the lower bowl and distributing them to fans.
The fans are known as Squad 6 because of Bogut's uniform number and because they're the Bucks' sixth man. But there are rules if one wants to remain a member and keep getting tickets free that have a face value of $96.
You've got to stand the entire game and cheer like heck. You've got to wear Bucks gear. And, when it comes to painting your face, that might be assumed.
"I saw a couple of fans in Houston singing and stuff,'' Bogut said of why he decided to form Squad 6. "I wanted to do something for the atmosphere at the Bradley Center. So we had auditions. It was basically the crazier and louder you are, the more of a chance you had of getting free tickets. ... But, if you're in the squad and somebody sees you're not doing what you're supposed to be doing, you don't get tickets for the next game.''
[...] "I've never heard of this idea before,'' said John Hammond, in his second season as Bucks general manager. "It's been the best thing that has happened to our arena in a year at least. It's kind of a collegiate feel. It's bringing fun and frolics to a professional arena. ... Senator (Herb) Kohl (the Bucks owner) said that, if we can have a hundred of them in each corner, that would really change our building.''
It's an awesome idea, and this year, the Pistons decided to follow suit. From Pistons.com:
The Pistons will hold tryouts at 6 p.m. Wednesday to select those 50 leather-lunged fans, who will receive free tickets to all 41 home regular-season games but must commit to attending them all - and to making sure the other team knows they're in the building for every second of all 48 minutes.
"I tell you this - I wish it could be 5,000," Kuester said. "It's good just to make people understand how important they are. Our fans are huge. I was here in '04 and I remember what they were like then, and in a number of our games last year, they really were a sixth man for us."
"That's something that can get us going when we're a little down or whatever," Gordon said. "And when we're playing well, if they're crazy, they'll get us hyped. Hopefully, for the opposing team, it will distract them a little bit and cause them some problems."
With any luck, more NBA teams will catch on and this will become a league-wide trend. The lower bowl at any NBA arena, and especially the Palace, often has all the excitement of a corporate boardroom -- especially early in the game as fans are still trickling into the arena and after halftime when fans are slow to get back to their seats.
If any DBBers audition and/or make the cut, get in touch -- I'd love to feature a FanPost from someone describing the experience.