In every sport, there are teams that are so popular they have fans all over the country. The Pittsburgh Steelers are like that in the NFL. In major league baseball it’s the Yankees and Redsox. And in the NBA, the Lakers definitely fit that description.
So, when the Lakers visited the Indiana Pacers on Friday night, it wasn’t a surprise that they had a large contingent of fans in the arena. It’s like that for almost every road game they play.
With that many opposing fans in the arena, you get a situation where the crowd support for the home team isn’t as strong as normal. And, in this game, you could hear the cheers when Antawn Jamison hit a big three pointer down the stretch and when Dwight Howard got one of his several dunks.
But with fans in the Pacers’ building loudly cheering the road team, some Pacers players clearly weren’t happy about the fan support (or lack thereof) after the game. Especially George Hill, who sounded off to the Indy Star’s Mike Wells:
“It sucks. It was 70 (percent Lakers fans) – 30 (percent Pacers fans) out there. These are the same people that wants autographs after the game. We’re out there in the community. We’re doing our job, doing what we’re supposed to do on and off the court. Something has to change. I tip my hat to this team. We’ve been trouble free. Been out in the community shaking hands, we’re winning. It shouldn’t feel like an away game, especially with an important like this. Tonight, that’s what it felt like.”
I can’t speak to how accurate Hill’s estimation of 70% of the fans cheering for the Lakers is, but the fact that it seemed that way makes his frustration easy to understand. Especially in relation to Hill’s next point about needing the crowd to give you a boost when you’re playing at home:
“They always say your fans are your sixth man and you feed off that energy. Energy is down and we turn the ball over and we’re hearing cheers. We’re missing shots and we’re hearing cheers. That kind of brings your head down cause you know you’re at home. It shouldn’t be like that. Now we see how it is. We have to move forward, don’t worry about. Stay focus on what’s in this locker room and don’t worry about the rest.”
We’ve all seen how a great crowd can turn the momentum of a game. And against a Laker team that was fighting hard for a needed win after only getting 12 minutes of game action out of a hobbled Kobe Bryant, the Pacers could have used some extra support from the crowd rather than hearing them root on the visiting team.
That said, Hill’s statements cut deeper than your typical complaint about a popular team being well represented on the road. As Hill notes later, the Pacers are one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, look like they’ll win their division, and are one of the only real threats to knock off the Miami Heat in the playoffs.
Furthermore, the Pacers play a hard nosed, blue collar brand of basketball and possess a roster full of high character players who are far removed from those Pacers teams of old that had run-ins with the law and participated in one of the worst brawls in sports history.
So, at this point, support from the fans does not seem like too much to ask considering their place in the league and and their prospects for winning each night. But the Pacers rank 26th in average attendance for their home games and seem to have an influx of visiting team’s fans whenever they play a marquee opponent.
Against the Lakers that was certainly the case and Hill voiced his frustration. Frustration, it should be noted, that is easy to understand even when considering how often this happens when the Lakers play a road game.