A first-time NBA experience from the perspective of a Calgarian
By Matt DeMille, Sports Editor
Let’s be honest, avid sports fans living in Western Canada have it rough.
Why, you ask?
Of the five main professional sports that are consumed across North America— the NHL, NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball (MLB) and Major League Soccer (MLS)— only one league can be seen frequently and locally across the western provinces.
For the NHL, which has markets in seven Canadian cities including Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg, the long-standing venture to branch out to a more northern climate makes complete sense. The collective love and passion for hockey runs deep in Canadian culture and each team is cherished by its city.
But for the other four professional leagues, the addition of permanent locations throughout Western Canada is just too unfeasible—and rightfully so.
The NFL or MLS wouldn’t want to insert a multi-million dollar franchise into McMahon Stadium— nor would they want to consistently play in -30 C weather. The MLB wouldn’t even consider adding a team to Calgary’s now defunct Foothills Stadium. And, the NBA would much rather look at markets in Eastern Canada or Vancouver before even looking in Alberta’s direction.
This leaves us sports-craving, Western Canadians with little options when it comes to watching professional sports live and locally—that is, unless you want to risk your lives by watching the Calgary Flames under the crumbling confines of the Scotiabank Saddledome.
So, when the opportunity presents itself, Calgarians will jump at any chance to get their live sports fix when they find themselves traveling out-of-province. Or, that’s what I caught myself doing when I flew down to Atlanta, Georgia, as a part of The Reflector’s annual appearance at the Fall National College Media Convention.
As a part of our week-long visit in the Peach State, our editing team and I decided to take in the city’s sports scene by attending an NBA game at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena— the home of the Atlanta Hawks. A first-time experience for myself, I was immediately taken aback by how different an NBA atmosphere is to an NHL experience at the Saddledome.
Before we even stepped foot into the arena’s outdoor entrance and pavilion, the vibrant music of Atlanta’s hip-hop scene blaring from the speakers and the hooting and hollering from the team’s fan base pulled me closer to the venue. With each step I took toward the arena, my excitement levels rose and my heart-rate increased—as it always does when I get ready to take in a highly-anticipated game.
As we strode through security and into the arena’s concourse, the music heightened along with the cheers from an already raucous crowd. No more than minutes after walking through the welcoming doors of State Farm Arena, I understood that this wasn’t the same kind of atmosphere that was normally found in Calgary. Despite it being just the Hawks’ fifth game of the regular season, I already sensed the lively passion and excitement the spectators had for their home team. Whereas, nowadays in Calgary, the ‘C of Red’ only emits a lackluster sense of excitement as the Flames’ continue to deal with their early-season struggles— but that’s a story for another time.
As does everyone living on a student budget, we trudged up several sets of escalators to find our seats. However, unlike the press level sections in the Saddledome where spectators can barely recognize the on-ice combatants and are breathing in more carbon monoxide than oxygen, I’m convinced that there wasn’t a bad seat in Atlanta’s venue. Instead, our seats in the upper-portion of the arena provided us the opportunity to appreciate the views of the entire venue along with the court. Between stoppages in play, I peered up at the rafters to admire the countless banners celebrating milestone seasons and former players, while checking out other aspects of the arena that made it unique to others in the country.
The in-game experience was also a huge change of pace from what I’ve grown accustomed to in Calgary. While basketball has never been my go-to choice when tuning into a televised sport, I admit that I’ve grown a new admiration for how the game is played and its entertainment value. An in-house DJ keeps the game lively and the audience involved by pumping music and chants throughout the arena while ‘hype’ teams, who are found running between sections, also keep the crowd engaged by tempting them with free loot.
But, nothing was more entertaining than the game itself. I’ll be the first to admit that I only know the basic rules of basketball and personally don’t follow the NBA too closely, but none of that mattered at the game. As a matter of fact, the NBA might be the easiest and most entertaining game to follow for first-time spectator. The two- and three-point scoring systems are easy to follow and the high-scoring pace keeps you invested for the entire game, regardless of the score.
However, it’s always a positive when the home team also picks up the win at the end of the night—which is exactly what the Hawks did. After falling behind to the visiting Washington Wizards in the first quarter, the Hawks, who were spurred on by the Atlanta faithful, rallied back to win the game by a score of 130-121.
While it is disappointing that Western Canada is missing out on the opportunity to catch more top-level professional sports live and in-person, I will continue to catch any live games I can when I visit a major sporting hub across North America.
I encourage everyone else to do the same.