And now for another edition of The Spike Files - the ongoing series of posts, blogs and other bullshit I wish I had gotten paid for but didn’t.
It’s that time of year again; the songbirds are singing, the cherry blossoms are in bloom, and the NBA’s elite-to-barely-mediocre are prepping for summer ball. The top seeds in the West are sparring over home court, Anthony Davis is strapping on a backpack full of bad coaching and role players, and the Hawks are trying desperately to clear their collective throat. But there is more to this stretch run than meets the eye. Below the surface, toiling in obscurity, are the league’s misfits, basement dwellers, and outcasts. Yes, even as we speak, the gnarled heart beneath the floorboards of Madison Square Garden doggedly beats. The mangled pre-corpse of the Sixers still draws breath. We may have metaphorically closed the refrigerator door on their seasons, but the light inside shines on. Rather than allow these dregs whatever solace they might find in being able to deploy the white flag of surrender, we urge them onward and downward, to undignified ends. Their fate is a cruel one.
Crueler still is the fate of the fans. The roster and staff of the Denver Nuggets may for all intents and purposes be in St. Tropez, but the support staff and arena crews are as competent as those of any other franchise, meaning the lights in the Pepsi Center will come on as scheduled, and confused fans will lazily shuffle in like moths to a light. What they will see there depends largely on the mercy of the consistently superior opposition — an undoubtedly risky gamble. (Only a sports team could offer advance tickets for an event that will either be an execution or a pie-eating contest, specifics TBD.) But on those rare nights the Nuggets meet their match in an equally hapless foe, what befalls those in the stands? Are they dismayed to find that the home team has company in the hellish realm of Badsketball? Are they disturbed by the sheer number of absurd unsportslike situations they no doubt witness both teams bungle themselves into and, more rarely, out of? Do they dare to be entertained by the absurd spectacle of it all?
We endeavored to find the answers to these questions, and more, by watching the Lakers duel the Nuggets in the flesh, despite being fully aware that the game was among the final few pointless contests of the season, and that Byron “Count to Two” Scott would be prominently involved.
To up the ante even further, we opted to sit courtside in order to obtain an unblemished view of the proceedings, a proposition just shy of vile enough to defeat its own merit. But we didn’t attend this gruesome promenade for joy, we did it for science; we did it to prove that the human spirit is indomitable and capable of anything. We did it so you didn’t have to. This is what we learned.
Players love gum. They go hog wild for it, in fact. We sat behind the Lakers announce crew of Bill MacDonald and Stu Lantz, and in addition to all the talcum powder any man could ever need, in front of them sat a huge stack of gum, evidently exclusively for the players. Now, the guys on the bench, whether it’s because they can’t figure out why they aren’t actually playing in the game, or if it’s just always like this near the end of a season, will regularly mill around in front of the announce table during the breaks. They generally seem rather aimless, even the ones filtering in and out of play.
My ambition was to catch the attention of Ed Davis since, as a Memphis fan wearing a Memphis jacket, I thought I might get a rise out of him by asking whether he wished he were still playing for the playoff-bound Grizzlies. But Ed’s face bore every indignity of the 2015 Lakers season, and the scowl he did not see fit to drop bolted me to my chair like a magnet. I took the hint and moved on. My next target was the affable and well-rested Carlos Boozer, who conveniently appeared at the announcer’s table roughly every .0045 seconds. Though his impact on the game at hand was equal to my own, he nonetheless found himself wandering the sideline at every possible opportunity. But what to say? I was stumped. Luckily, inspiration soon struck, and bellowing “CARLOS! CAARRLOS!” over the din of the surprisingly feisty Pepsi Center crowd eventually got the big man’s attention while he was, you guessed it, retrieving a piece of gum. Booze responded with a Hawaiian shaka, which was very much appreciated, but as I motioned toward the table and back to my mouth, he gradually came to understand my intention. Graciously, he opened up the pack and short-armed a piece of Trident in my general direction. I dove to the floor and raised a solitary fist in a declaration of victory. I had gotten gum from Carlos Boozer!
That generous act was so sincerely and unexpectedly cool that I won’t even relate to you the incredibly overt manner in which he and Jordan Hill were shamelessly gawking at the Nuggets dancers during their routines. The fact that both men looked like they were standing in line at a lady buffet with forks for hands will remain unknown to you, for as long as I shall live.
Being an announcer is weird as hell. Stu Lantz wears a softball in the shape of an NBA championship ring on his right hand, despite playing in just two playoff series his entire career. Seeing that bad boy up close and personal will definitely make you think about hometown announcer bias in a different light. His partner Bill MacDonald, on the other hand, went from doing play-by-play for one of the most recognizable sports teams on the planet to glumly checking his text messages in about the time it takes Reggie Miller to clear out a room. Broadcasting must be a hectic job, so I really can’t begrudge him whatever leisure time he’s able to eek out during breaks in the action. I appreciated him taking the time to talk to me, though, when I caught him from behind on his way to the men’s room. Bill gets to use a private toilet guarded by security, which is probably the best perk in TV now that Jackass is off the air.
Actually, it’s kind of amazing Macdonald and Lantz can call the game at all given how much is going on around them. They’re constantly monitoring the game while still trying to put on a competent and entertaining broadcast, which has to be tough. At one point, the recently-signed Dwight Buycks mistakenly tried to check in with them but was shooed down the line to the scorer’s table. It was not immediately clear if the two men had ever seen him before.
Plus, there are actually four people squeezing into the two man booth — the announcers plus a stat guy and producer. The producer counts down to commercials and sits in front of a monitor running Windows XP. The stat guy periodically turns around and hands stat sheets to the fan sitting next to me. This led me to believe that he was a VIP, or at least a courtside regular, but his phone screen was cracked to hell and he asked me to explain the box score. When he left midway through the 3rd quarter, the stat guy began handing the sheets to a child in the 2nd row. I brought several of them home. They are unremarkable.
You can buy beer without leaving your seat. ‘Nuff said.
The Lakers stink. Granted, you don’t have to be courtside to figure that out, since you could probably tell from the fucking International Space Station that LA has a bigger rotation of bums than a bus stop bench. Jordan Clarkson is interesting for sure, but beyond him the roster is absolutely bonkers - like the dumbest Buss kid drew it up on a Lite Brite.
When anyone but Clarkson runs the offense, the disgust in the arena, even from hostile fans, is palpable. There’s seemingly no one else who can call a play, which would be problematic if you could actually believe there were any plays in the first place. Byron Scott seems to be drawing something up on that clipboard, but it might as well be a grocery list for all the explanation he gives his players. He’s quiet in the huddle, letting his assistants do most of the talking, and his butt is exclusively glued to the bench during play. That attitude has totally infected the team, especially on defense, where the Lakers, who are completely silent during play, are near the bottom of the league in efficiency. I really couldn’t get over it — they do not speak to one another. You can’t know where to go if your teammates aren’t talking. You can’t know who’s leaking toward the basket if no one gives you a heads-up. All you can do is shuffle around and hope nothing bad happens. Most of the time, something does.
Bad teams equal cheap entertainment. Real cheap. Sitting courtside cost us just a shade over $200 per ticket, inclusive of all 3rd party fees. That’s a lot, say, compared to how much I donated to charity last year (uh...the check is in the mail), but it’s nothing in the realm of high end sports entertainment experiences. The very same Nuggets will be in LA to duel the Clippers on April 13th, and a similar ticket to ours will run you $999 at press time, despite the fact that it’s projected to be a blowout. And that’s just for one butt in the seat! It’s not an anomaly, either. Other tickets to games including at least one playoff team, if they are even available, are priced near to or above the four-figure mark on most sites, which is almost 9x the face value of the Nuggets tix we procured. Hell, it’ll cost you $90-$100 to get Mayweather-Pacquiao on your TV this May, and you don’t even get to leave your kids.
Unfortunately, they don’t discount concessions when your team loses 8 in a row, but bad teams do often make bad personnel decisions, which means a roster with more turnover, which means cheap jerseys in the team store. That means, if you’re standing by the grey stone when the thrush knocks, you could possibly score a JaVale McGee jersey for 30 bones! That’s a savings of 75% when compared to the cost of a jersey for a player who is good, or is currently playing basketball — a bigger steal than JaVale had his entire career.
The players just say normal stuff to each other. If you’re like me, you’ve always wondered what talk show hosts say to their guests when the music kicks in and they throw it to commercial, or what news anchors say when their mics are cut off and you get to find out which discount retailer donated their pantsuits. The same goes for athletes — we know coaches and players will “work” the refs to get what they want, but what do they actually say? Thanks to the Lakers’ defensive vow of silence, I found out. Here are some of the juiciest on-court quotes I got from crowd-favorite Danilo Gallinari:
- When lobbying for the Nuggets to gain possession after an out of bounds play: “It [the ball] is supposed to be that way.”
- Explaining an offensive set to his teammates: “I want to go in the corner.”
- Wanting to be passed the ball: “Pass me the ball.”
Boy, that’s classic Gallo. You can see why he’s a fan favorite. I want to thank him, and all the players and staff involved in the game experience at the Pepsi Center. It was a real treat. My wife also deserves kudos, for letting us spend such a large chunk of our vacation watching D-Leaguers heft lousy shots in an empty arena. Most of all, I gotta give a huge thanks to
Vice Sports myself for letting me share this adventure with you all. It was something I’ll never forget. And I’m never going back.