Nonsense in the Nosebleed Section

I caught my first Portland Trail Blazers game last night at the Rose Garden, but more importantly, my first Orlando Magic game. I’ve been a fan of the Magic since 1992, Shaquille O’Neal’s rookie season. It’s been a tough go for nearly two decades now, but it was good to finally see them in living color.

I hadn’t intended on going. My girlfriend encouraged me to buy tickets late in the afternoon yesterday. (The game was at 7:30 p.m.) I found a couple of seats on StubHub.com for $60. You can see by the picture above we safely avoided the chance of any players jumping into our laps to save a loose ball. I’m a worry wart like that.

It was a great experience overall, save for the part where Orlando looked like the Hillsboro High School  junior varsity team. (The girls’, not the boys’.) It’s never fun watching your team get throttled on the other team’s home court. Blazers fans are overzealous anyway, which is ironic considering Portland is to sports town what Green Bay is to Spring Break destination. I had to remind myself my team will be playing in June while the Blazers will be mourning another season of failed expectations.

They are inflatable. They are noisy. I hate to be the one to say it, but they're also phallic.

Let’s talk about thunder sticks. You’ll know them as the plastic, inflatable noise-making apparati used to exponentiate a fan’s ability to make noise. Noise is, of course, how a crowd is supposed to express its approval or disapproval while at a game. I’ve always stuck to words but apparently vigorously clapping two thunder sticks together is the new, “I’m enjoying this experience.”

I’m generally observant watching a game. I try to hone in on individual match-ups,  see how defensive sets change throughout, or consider the ever-changing momentum and how timeouts can bring it to a halt. I’m a basketball nerd. I’m OK with how little impact I, as a fan, have on a game. When I was young, the game was the experience, not the ability to up the decibels with misguided fervor.

Crowds have grown increasingly needy of attention. They want to be “the 6th man” or “the 12th player.” If you’ve ever played a sport before a large crowd, you know it’s basically white noise. Imagine professional athletes, some who’ve experienced a sell-out crowd thousands of times in their career. Hard to imagine they bat an eye at a raucous crowd.

Back to thunder sticks. Like crystal meth for clappers. There’s simply no way to look like a practical human-being while smacking them together like an overzealous seal with Tourette’s syndrome. I understand they’re for the kids, and kids love them. Kids love anything that’s A) Inflatable or B) Makes noise. Thunder sticks are the quickest way of offsetting years of Baby Einstein tapes.

Clackers weren't handed out at sporting events. They were purchased with 15-20 tickets at the arcade.

When I was young, we had clackers. Clackers weren’t my thing, but they were in my opinion a more dignified way of creating noise. (More so than thunder sticks, anyway.) One could sway the handle back and forth, causing two balls to crack together, creating sound much like, well, clapping. It was like clapping with one hand. The other hand could be used to high-five friends or, God forbid, rest inactively on one’s lap.

By now, you’re probably thinking, “I pay good money to see a game, so it’s my right to make as much noise as I want.” I agree with you, but only on a Constitutional level. You’ve got the right to say whatever you like in the public forum that is a professional sports arena. But do so with tact. Don’t sit seven rows from the ceiling and berate Blazers coach Nate McMillan for not inserting reserve Rudy Fernandez (who is returning from over a month on the injured list) when the Blazers are up 20 points late in the fourth quarter.

Cheer and jeer as you will, but when you’re trying to address someone miles out of earshot, that’s not being a fan — that’s being a crazy person. That’s failing to grasp reality. That’s annoying me, Andrew, in Section 307, Row L, Seat 20. Sound travels at just over 340 miles per second. Screaming from the nosebleed in the fourth quarter means your thoughtful analysis won’t reach court-level until March.

I close wondering what it would be like if professional sports were viewed objectively, as one watches the opera or a symphony. The emotional investment wouldn’t be in one team’s success, but rather the overall quality of  a game. You would sit there, observing the nuances, holding in your applause until a break or the game was over. You wouldn’t measure the performance by who won or lost, but by the level of each team’s performance.

Ironically, that would make you look like a crazy person.

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