Liberated Fandom in the NBA-Free Quarters

When recently joking about going to an “NBA bar” in Pittsburgh (there is no such thing, even in the fantastical neighborhood of Fairywood), I made a fictional list of the limited groups of pro basketball fans in the Steel City:
  • University of Pittsburgh and CMU students who moved here from “Philly” (actually Doylestown) that pretend Evan Turner is way better than he really is
  • African American bus drivers old enough to remember Connie Hawkins’ Pittsburgh Rens and Pipers career
  • Pittsburgh Public school students between the ages of 16 and 16.5
I would added "backpacker hip hop fans" but I think most of them are stuck in a nostalgia rut for when Ronnie Fields was on the cover of Slam, Rawkus records comps were popular, and Ron Artest and James Posey were second team All-Rookie.

I don’t know if my list is 100% factually correct (I don’t fall under any of those three groups) but the point is: NBA fandom is limited in Pittsburgh.

From the manifesto that begins the FreeDarko collective's The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac:
In an age less advanced, man's allegiance was determined by proximity alone. Tribalism and peer pressure conspired to make the fan see only "us" and "them," no matter what genius wore the color of the enemy. We believe that these are the ways of provincials and fascists, and in this brave century man must stand on his own and open his fandom to new possibilities.
Putting aside the hyperbole of “fascists”, I would say that Pittsburghers have been “liberated” from a geographic rooting base for professional basketball for my entire life (no offense to the Xplosion, et al.) Other than the rare person like my dad -- who drove us to Cleveland to root for Dr. J's Sixers against the Cavs -- there is no real geographical way to relate to regular season or playoff pro basketball here. And going to the occasional pre-season game isn't that interesting of a proposition for me.

Perhaps because it is an allegedly “provincial” city to begin with (used here both in the political sense and in it's traditional Black and Gold/geographic and diaspora allegiance to its sports teams, especially the Steelers), the NBA just doesn't have a natural fan base here outside of a few small subcultures. And just when I was getting ready to -- in a contradictory move -- both defend Pittsburgh against charges of provincialism AND talk about the positive aspects of it’s populist appeal, I read another story that confirms my worst fears of this region.

So I hate and love southwestern Pennsylvania. Usually I think there is no place else I'd rather live. But on the other hand, it is where I was raised, so how typical is that? And so I hate and love our lack of an NBA basketball team.

The upside to being an NBA fan here is almost total freedom. I have watched well over 50% of these playoff games when friends I have in other cities who have a geographic rooting interest in an NBA team have watched a lot less than that because they have a hard time getting inspired by a first round Hawks game, despite them being team based upon a uniquely half court version of Chaos Theory. I will be able to root for any of the Western Conference teams against a villain-Heat (a Heat team that I think has been good for the game) with more vigour than a disgruntled Spurs fan might be able to muster. In an era of League Pass, what excuse could one have as a basketball fan NOT to watch NBA games despite location?

But the downside is I don't get to share in the joy of going to a bar and seeing 100 people jumping up and down for a game winning basket by "the home team" like I do with the Pitt Panthers. And I don't get the experience of going to the game to wear the matching t-shirts that every other playoff fan willing and able to shell out money for playoff tickets can. I don't get to talk about the "game last night" on my bus ride to work, unless I luck out and get a certain bus driver.

Is the lack of pro basketball interest an entirely geographical lack-of-team issue or is it a more complicated issue of a region of Dewey Burton’s?

Considering an NBA team is unlikely to move to Pittsburgh in the foreseeable future, we may never know. But until then, I embrace my lifetime of liberated fandom! The 2002 Kings were robbed! Iverson showed us the possibilities and limits of one man heroics! "We Believe" in the Warriors! Bring on Alcindor! And go Condors Hawks?!

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Anonymous said...

there's also the whole racism thing

Anonymous said...

I think i dealt with racism without hammering on about it by mentioning Dewey Burton (next time should I just use Archie Bunker as a nod to the dumbing down of that discussion) as well as my initial implication that a lot of the small number of NBA fans in Pittsburgh are black.

Anonymous said...

Also, I imagine Utah and Oklahoma can be very racist places -- where NBA teams are seeming to thrive, though I admit, with the lack of a lot of winter sport competition.

Kelly said...

We should also add that ND was sort of born in Pittsburgh's Bloomfield neighborhood!

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