April 14, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) shoots a free throw against the Sacramento Kings in the first quarter at the Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers: The Live NBA Experience

March 2, 2013; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers

March 2, 2013; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers

With the advent hi-def TVs, YouTube highlight clips, and 24/7 channels used for consuming sports nowadays, going to games in person often gets lost in the shuffle. When you add in the rising cost of tickets, often difficult parking, and the improving quality of TV broadcasts, this comes as no surprise. Fans have very good reasons for not actually attending games, and this is why one of the primary jobs of professional sports teams these days is figuring out how to keep drawing fans.

The Blazers have traditionally had very strong fan attendance, but the team still sought to gather fan opinions with a comprehensive survey this off-season. Having lived abroad for all of last year, Tuesday night’s game against the Rockets was the first time I was able to attend the now Moda Center / Rose Garden in a long time. I was curious about the new direction the Blazers had taken for the presentation of their live performance.

As was par for the course, parking was not pleasant but it was doable. This is not something unique to Portland, though, as I think fans of most teams have to go through this. I actually bought tickets for the game from the official website, instead of StubHub like I normally do. This was only because the team’s ‘Flex-Package’ actually turned out to be a great deal, so I give the team credit for that. That was already an improvement from past years.

When the game started, I was instantly reminded of just why I, or any fan, bother with going to games at all: being able to witness the sheer athleticism of the players is something truly incredible. This is something that absolutely does not translate to TV, and will never cease to amaze me. Three plays in particular stood out to me – two MONSTER Dwight Howard alley-oops, and an incredible dunk attempt from Damian Lillard in the third quarter. In person, both players looked close to flight. A TV can’t hope to even come close to conveying that.

When we remove the cynicism and jadedness that often comes with obsessing over a team, the NBA truly is beautiful – it is the best basketball in the world, bar none. The athleticism, the skills, the emotions, etc. all can combine into one beautiful product.

Unfortunately, this beauty was utterly destroyed by the referees during this particular game. The two teams combined for 55 fouls, which ruined any rhythm or flow to the game for players and fans alike. It was infuriating. As a fan who likes my team to win, I can understand  at a base level why free throws are so important, but as a plain fan, I despise free throws. They take too long, and kill the back and forth nature of the game. Sadly for me, Mr. Ten-free-throws-a-game himself, James Harden, was playing, which was highly frustrating.

Everyone likes to complain about the reffing in the NBA, but I legitimately think that with the push to give offensive players the advantage, the NBA has neutered a large part of its product. It is a problem when, during the Rockets game, I found myself overjoyed when play could continue for even just a minute and a half uninterrupted. That’s the way basketball should be free-flowing and in constant motion. Fifteen seconds of play and then a whistle does not make for a great fan experience by any stretch of the imagination.

Contributing to this problem is that there are too many timeouts (I’m looking at you, mandatory TV timeouts). This wasn’t even a nail-biter of a game, either. I can only imagine the drudgery of sitting through a close game whose final thirty seconds are laced with five timeouts. In other areas for improvement, the game was scheduled for starting at 7, but in reality, that is when introductions / the national anthem started. Halftime wasn’t egregiously annoying, but probably two or three minutes longer than it needed to be. This was exacerbated by the fact that the halftime show by a break dancing group was bland and uninspiring.

Soccer often gets a bad rap as boring here in America, but I will be the first to say that having two 45 minute halves of guaranteed uninterrupted playing time is a sports fan’s dream. While they are obviously completely different sports, I wish that somehow the NBA could move toward that fluidity.

Much of what I said above adds up to the basic problem of games running too long. This is nothing new, and something that fellow sportswriter Bill Simmons has been harping about for years. I went to the game with a couple friends, and we drove instead of using public transportation. We had to leave at six, and got back to their apartment (in a Portland suburb) well after ten. If we had gone the MAX route (which I have often done in the past), the time from leaving home to getting back home can conservatively stretch from  5.30pm to 10.30pm, a five hour commitment – all for 48 minutes of basketball.

Obviously the Trail Blazers / the NBA can’t control transportation times, but any and all attempts by the league to limit the time required in the arenas themselves would be welcome by me. When I look at the required time commitment for a single game, I cannot imagine ever owning season tickets. As it stands, I am happy I went to the Rockets game, but I will probably continue on my path of only going to a select few games. The Moda Center was decidedly not full against Houston (reported attendance of 17,491 out of a 19,980 potential capacity), so perhaps other Portland fans are starting to think like me. There is nothing like watching an NBA game in person, but sometimes it is just not worth the hassle.

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