The Sixth Man (cont.)
"I lived for six years in Europe and went to a lot of basketball games," I was saying recently to Andrew Bogut. "When I came back home ..."
"You missed it?" he said.
"Yes," I told him. "The games are so quiet here."
Of course, that isn't true exactly. The NBA arenas are incomprehensibly noisy, but most of the noise is artificial. It comes out of loudspeakers via music or video clips.
What I meant to say is that the fans are relatively quiet. Apart from cheering for a basket or a blocked shot, there is very little coherent sound coming from the fans in NBA arenas.
In Europe, the mood is entirely different. The fans chant and sing and generate their own entertainment. The most passionate supporters in Europe don't want to be entertained by the players -- they aim instead to inspire the team while enjoying themselves. That's why Bogut last year introduced Squad 6 -- named after his uniform number in Milwaukee -- for which he purchased a block of 100 season tickets to be dispensed among the noisiest fans.
"There are a lot of people out there who can't afford tickets who would love to get to a game, so I give them the opportunity," Bogut said. "All they have to do to repay that is to cheer and be loud.
"They sing songs about players during the game. They sang Dude Looks Like a Lady for Joakim Noah last year. They did Love Stinks for Kevin Love, and at the end of the games they do the 'Ole', ole'-ole'-ole' song. They do the Seven Nations Army song at the start of every fourth quarter. I think they'll have some more stuff coming out this year."
The initiative was so successful last year that Bogut picked it up again this year, though he realizes he can't replicate the European climate because the NBA doesn't permit the drummers who provide a backbeat and inspire the larger crowd to sing along.
"David Stern has outlawed that because I guess too many sponsors don't want to hear the drums," Bogut said. "There are differing opinions on it, but that's just the way the league is. The rule book is getting thicker and thicker."
Bogut's experiment makes me wonder how the league may eventually be influenced by Stern's recently renewed promise to install a division of five NBA teams in Europe within the decade. I've always worried that the NBA would rob Europe of its passion by pricing out the most sincere supporters and drumming out the drummers, but what if some of the creativity and exuberance of European basketball happened to rub off on the NBA? Some of the stale arenas over here could benefit from the inspiration.
Bogut said the Bucks discussed moving Squad 6 to another section of the arena this season before he had them reinstated in the lower bowl across the court facing the Milwaukee bench.
"I'm probably the biggest-spending season-ticket holder," he said. "I have a bit of a say, so we moved them back to where they belong."
Bogut's ultimate goal is to see his section of fans leading the entire arena in cheers someday.
"That would be great," he said. "If I moved on from Milwaukee, there would be nothing better than to come back here and still see them around. That's my goal: I'd love to see it actually become a fan club. It's really, really important."
From an NBA advance scout. I was suggesting that LeBron James might emerge as the Magic Johnson of his era when the scout interrupted me:
"The difference between LeBron and Magic Johnson is that Magic was all about his teammates, and he stepped up when he was needed. LeBron has talked about doing that, but when you look back at Cleveland's games the last few years, it was all about him. When you know what they were trying to do as a team and LeBron was questioning the coach, and Mike Brown was saying, 'OK, LeBron, we'll do it your way' ... what ended up happening was that Mike Brown was always deferring to LeBron. And then when it didn't work, who took the blame? It wasn't LeBron.
"I used to see the same things with Dominique Wilkins. He had some of the greatest head-to-head battles with Michael Jordan or with Larry Bird, but you know whose team came out ahead. So I guess then Dominique should have called up Michael Jordan and said, 'How about if I come to Chicago?' And Jordan would have said, 'You know what, we've got a pretty good three-man here already.' And Larry Bird would have said, 'I don't know where you're going to play.' "
It's amazing to me how many people around the league are down on James -- and they will remain negative until he begins to win championships.
From Celtics coach Doc Rivers. He was blunt when asked about Shaq's pick-and-roll defense:
"When you have Shaq, that's a work in progress for the year. We knew that coming into it. When we played against Shaq, we wanted him on the floor so we could run the pick-and-roll. Now that he's on our team, opponents are going to run the pick-and-roll and they're going to send shooters off his side because he can't show. We worked on it, and instead of me thinking I'm smarter than anybody else -- I'm not, and Shaq is never going to be a great guy in the pick-and-roll showing -- we just put the onus on the guards. If the guards can get over the screen and channel them to Shaq so he can stay in the paint, then we're good. And if they don't, if they get picked off and opponents are allowed to attack Shaq, then that's going to hurt us. Us being a defensive team, that's the biggest concern -- bigger than any of our other concerns."
Only five players from the '07 class -- Kevin Durant, Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Mike Conley and Jared Dudley -- were signed to contract extensions by the deadline this week, mainly because most teams prefer to re-sign them under the less-costly terms of the new collective bargaining agreement next year. But does it also have something to do with the strength of the class itself?
I've gone back and reorganized that draft based on current knowledge. I'm sure I'll receive letters of protest, but let me warn you: It's not easy to rate a lot of these players even now.
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