HAWKSVILLE - Ask Joe Johnson the difference between the Hawks at Philips Arena and elsewhere and he’ll give you a simple answer.
“This is home for us and we have to act like it,” he said. “So we’re feeding off our fans like anybody would in this situation. Our crowd is where we get our energy. That’s what’s fueling us right now. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
A 25-7 home record can be improved to 26 tonight with a win over Sacramento. That would push the Hawks’ record on their current seven-game home stand to 6-0, one win away from matching the seven they piled up (with just one loss) during a December home stand they used to vault to a 21-10 start to this season.
Still, it’s hard for me to imagine Johnson bragging about the home crowd when there have been so many empty seats lately. So this is what home sweet home looks like?
It’s strange, for all the bellyaching that’s gone on (here and elsewhere) about wanting a legitimate NBA team to root for in this town, it seems few people are actually willing to venture out to Philips Arena to see it in person.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking anyone that roots from afar. In these economic times, watching the Hawks in HD from the crib is every bit as righteous as showing up for games. If the choice is making your car payment or buying those Hawks tickets, there’s really no choice. And unlike Polow Da Don, Jeezy, Dream, Ciara and all the other A-listers that show up most every night, funds for things like Hawks games are limited these days.
It’s just that there have been sellouts for certain teams and then crickets for others. Again, nothing out of the ordinary when the Hawks were a laughingstock. I just thought it would change now, with them being a legitimate playoff team.
The Hawks have had just nine sellouts this season. They are averaging 16,494 fans, which is impressive when some of the league’s stalwarts (Detroit and Sacramento) are struggling to put fannies in the seats. I guess I just expected more with all the chatter about wanting a big time team to fit a city that felt it was so deserving.
I’m sure this conversation will be useless next week, when the Celtics and Lakers are in town. But that has as much and more to do with the opponents than it does the Hawks, who are still chasing that 50-win pipe dream like it’s a possibility – even if cats like me abandoned the mere mention of such foolishness weeks ago.
The worst part for local fans who have suffered through years of frustration is that you haven’t had a chance to see your team play lights out basketball the past week. However fantastic it looks on the screen, it looks even better in person. As the Portland game ended Sunday I turned and chatted up some of the regulars who sit behind me every game and they said as much.
Once the playoffs start there’s no doubt in my mind the city of Atlanta will represent. That’s never going to be a problem. But on nights like tonight, when the lowly Kings stroll into town, you can count the people in the stands for the national anthem on two hands (this is Atlanta and unless it’s Kobe or LeBron, the crowd will arrive fashionably late as always).
Then again, it’s taken the Hawks the better part of a decade to crawl out of obscurity and back into the realm of the relevant in the NBA. Maybe we should allow the same for the crowds at the building formerly known as the Highlight Factory.