Before last Sunday's Game 1 of the Spurs vs. Mavericks playoff series, I had never attended a pro basketball game. Back when I was attending college at the University of Texas, I was a big Longhorn basketball fan and loved going down to Gregory Gym, the tiny and raucous arena where I got to see great players like Ovie Dotson, who went on to join the Harlem Globetrotters.
A few years later, the Longhorns were coached by Abe Lemons and they moved into the Special Events Center (called the Frank Erwin Center today). I only saw one game there, but it was a great one. My friend and I decided to go at the last minute, but we found there weren't any tickets left. My friend, quite a bit bolder than me, sneaked us past the gate and we were in. What can I say, it was 1976, it's not something you could do today. There was one Longhorn player who stood out. A skinny little guy from Altoona, Pennsylvania named Johnny Moore, but with his speed and superior ball handling he dominated the game. I felt at that time that that kid would turn out to be a great pro player. He did make the pros, but unfortunately illness cut his career short. I'm glad he went on to become a Spur and play with George Gervin and other Spurs greats.
Fast forward 28 years. My favorite player is Tim Duncan, but despite living in Austin, only a little over an hour's drive away from AT&T Center, I had never been to a Spurs game in person. When PtR put up a special offer for playoff games, I figured it was time to go. I called up my friend Evelyn and asked her if she wanted to go to a Spurs game. She replied "YES!!" and I logged on to the website and got some tickets. We were in the balcony, kind of behind and to the left of the visitor's basket in the first half. Not the best seats, but we were looking forward to being there in person.
It was great to see the pregame shootaround and horseplay between the players. You really don't see that when you watch the game on TV. One thing I noticed is how long and graceful Tim seems in person compared to on TV. He looks big on TV, but somehow you don't notice how effortless and economical his movement is compared to the other players on the court. He's like a big cat, who doesn't expend any effort except for play or prey.
The atmosphere at the arena for Game 1 was much lower energy than I expected. I think the fans expected a Spurs blowout but the first 3 1/2 quarters were an inept effort by both teams, with the Spurs playing slightly worse. Until the final 7 minutes, when the Spurs shut down the Mavs and Tim carried a reluctant team to a close victory. The crowd, which had been quiescent for most of the game, woke up and made themselves heard. By the end of the game, I was hoarse from shouting and everyone left wearing a huge smile. After the game, I was starving, but I picked up an excellent brisket sandwich from a food truck on the way out. This was the best first game experience I could have hoped for.
We came back for Game 2 on Wednesday night, drove in early and had dinner at The Cove -- which my friend described as "your standard Ice House/Restaurant/Car Wash/Washateria with organic and vegan options." Turned out to be an incredibly accurate description. It was a great place to relax and get fed before the game started, and we arrived at the game on time, well fed, and happy.
The second game started with a lot more excitement than the first. The crowd was really into it from the beginning and the atmosphere was electric. The crowd was in a near frenzy by the opening tip off. Alas, it was not to be. After a decent first quarter, the Spurs forgot how to play basketball, and the Mavs got hot. Jose Calderon and Devin Harris kept slicing and dicing and getting open shots and burying them. The Spurs did their best to help the Mavs cause by giving them lots of extra possessions. Only Manu Ginobili seemed to be playing with passion and halfway through the fourth quarter, Pop pulled the plug and put in the bench.
Fans started streaming out of the arena as the game wound down and by the end about half of the seats were empty. Frankly, that was a little disappointing to see, but I try not to judge. Evelyn and I stayed to the bitter end and watched as Dirk celebrated drawing fouls on the Spurs' second and third string players. Lesson learned: Mavs are classy. (Hey, I said I tried not to judge.) Guess that's what you do when it's your first win against a team in 10 tries.
As we walked out the door, Evelyn turned to me and said "It's more fun when they win, but it's also pretty much fun being here even when they lose." I thought to myself, that's what it's like to be a fan. Just sharing this experience, being with other fans and seeing your team play is so enriching. I'm so glad I went, I can't believe I waited so long.
Watching the games on TV is great fun, but if you have the opportunity to go, it's just an incredible experience. Even if it's a loss.