Tuesday, November 6, 2012

For The Complete Live Basketball Experience, College Trumps The NBA

The Oklahoma City Thunder arena and fans are the closest you'll find in the NBA to a college atmosphere. (blog.newsok.com)

Tip-off was at 7 p.m. for this college basketball matchup, but the students took their places in the stands behind both baskets long before then.

Hundreds of students pretended to read newspapers while the opposing team was introduced - per tradition - before tearing the paper up and throwing it into the air in celebration of their team. They stood the entire game, yelling and jumping; making life as difficult as possible for the visiting team, who was doomed before stepping on the court.

The rest of the building was alive and passionate as well. The pre-game video sent goosebumps up fans' arms as they relived great moments from last year and the success of the past. The home team's starting lineup got a hero's welcome, which only got louder with each 3-pointer and high-flying dunk.

The home team won handedly, as expected, and the fans went home smiling, knowing they did their part.

Oh, and the score of the game didn't even matter. It was an exhibition game against a Div. II opponent that would not get hours of analysis on ESPN the next day. But that's the beauty of college basketball; the atmosphere of watching a game live puts the NBA to shame.

I will note this took place in Allen Fieldhouse (one of the greatest college basketball arenas in the country) with a University of Kansas team that has had a lot to celebrate and be loud about. (Rivals of the Jayhawks, don't worry. This isn't about KU, but merely a backdrop in which to explain my point.)

Regardless of the venue or team, the fact that fans showed this level of excitement for a game that didn't matter in the overall record is something to value. College arenas have hyper students in the stands instead of quieter businessmen at NBA games, which is a trade that makes college games the basketball skill level to see live.

This is not to say NBA fans don't have passion, because they do. But the season is long and there is not that emphasis of a must-win on every game. Plus the school's decades of songs and traditions that brings the fans together and makes the atmosphere special.

The size of the arena probably plays a factor as well. College arenas are smaller, more intimate and have the history that haunts opposing teams. NBA arenas are commercialized; larger numbers of seats with a corporate sponsor's name on the outside and advertisements everywhere you look.

The fandom ties just aren't as strong in the NBA. In college, you either attended that university - spending four, five or six wonderful years there - or have been a fan for life. There are also life-long NBA fans, but the bond is just not the same.

The Oklahoma City Thunder's home arena has quickly made a reputation as one of the best home courts in the NBA. And the answer you get when asking why? Because it's the most like a college atmosphere. The fans are rowdy and passionate and let everyone within shouting distance hear their support. Maybe it's because the franchise has only been there for a few years and no one told them how they were supposed to attend an NBA game.

The NBA has the stars and story lines that make it great to watch, but if you want to have the complete live basketball experience, go to a major college near you, take it all in, and don't be afraid to make a little noise.

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