by Alejandro de los Rios
Since moving down here back in August (still can't believe it hasn't been a year yet) I've been completely enthralled with New Orlenians and their passion for their sports teams. From LSU and Saints football to the recent emergence of the Hornets, it's a contagious atmosphere to say the least. Anyone who's paid attention to my entries on this blog knows how much attention I've given the fans. And I'd say it's been deservedly so.
Before moving down here I heard many people worry on my behalf about moving to a city that's still viewed in the rest of the country as a recovery zone. I had my own worries as well, as would be expected when you pick up and decided to move to a completely new city on a whim. But all of my trepidation was quickly assuaged the first night I spent here and it's been smooth sailing ever since.
Why? Because, unlike any other city I've ever lived or spent time in, New Orleans has an outstanding sense of community. Especially after Katrina, there's this sense of pride I've felt about the people here that screams "We choose to live in this city and no one is convincing us otherwise."
I bring all this up because, as the mainstream media is wont to do, the Hornets have been portrayed as a sort of saving grace for the city, much in the same way the Saints were looked at two years ago. Now, don't get me wrong, having two successful pro teams in this city has no doubt kept the city in the spotlight and brought in a much needed economic boost. But how accurate is it to tie the fate of this city with that of a sports franchise?
Manu Ginobli of the Spurs is from Argentina, a place that's had a nasty record of fan misbehavior. Before tonight's game, he said that there's no comparison between the fans in Argentina and those in the United States.
"There is no type of comparison," he said. "They're completely the opposite."
What Ginobli was saying is that while U.S. fans pride themselves in their fanaticism, at the end of the day, Americans are able to separate what happens on the field and what happens in real life. In Argentina, where the government and economy have been in turmoil for what seems like forever, people use sports both as a distraction and to make a distraction.
"Here people come to see a game as no more than a spectacle," he said. "They want their team to win but once the game ends, they very possibly forget about it. The Argentinian fan lives only for this and, regretfully, when the spectacle ends the fanaticism doesn't and that leads to many problems."
Few people remember that the first Saints season after Katrina wasn't two years ago, but that dreadful 2005 campaign in which the team had to play almost all of their home games on the road. But did the New Orleans fans not care for their team any less than when, a year later, they made the NFC Championship? Or what about last year, when the Saints finished 7-9. Surely the fans were disappointed, but they are still fans.
"If the Saints lose, we're not going to stop supporting them." Those are the words of Brandon Raines, the face-painted gentleman on the left in the above picture.
Raines and his friend, Alex Barnes (right) are New Orleans natives and Hornets super fans as noted by their attire. The two decided one day that, though the fans have been supportive, they needed a little extra push.
"We wanna make a good impression," Barnes said. "We wanna show the rest of the country that, if we can support these teams, we're back."
A seeming contradiction. But what Barnes said I think speaks more towards the attitude of the people of New Orleans, not the performance of the city's sports teams. After all, for much of the season, the Hornets performance was undercut by the team's lagging attendance the team didn't get their stamp of legitimacy until the fans started to come out in droves. The lagging attendance made it seem as though the people of New Orleans had more important things to do than watch a basketball team that the city was too downtrodden to focus on sports.
With fans coming out in droves, it means that what the Hornets are doing matters and, more importantly, the people of New Orleans can afford to take some time off to watch a sporting event. The team, in turn, has re-payed the city with an extended playoff run. Yet, at the end of the day, whether the Hornets win or lose, the people of New Orleans will go home and carry on, their lives not implicitly tied to the fate of their favorite sports team. As well it should be.
With all that said, the people of New Orleans seem like they would love to see a championship trophy raised. But then again, what city wouldn't?