On Wednesday, the threat of inclement weather nearly lead to the cancellation of the Hawks-Mavericks tilt in Atlanta.
Hawks players were told no game. Then told game was on an hour later. #ATLHawks
— Chris Vivlamore (@CVivlamoreAJC) February 25, 2015
The effect of the uncertainty was noticeable on the players, but the effect on the atmosphere of the arena stood out even more. The Hawks have made significant changes to their game presentation this season, including the introduction of a giant projector that lights up the floor for pregame introductions and halftime, as well as the usual collection of cheerleaders, trampoline dunkers, and a parachuting plush cow drop from the rafters.
On Wednesday, there were no cows, cheerleaders, or trampoline dunkers. Hell, there were barely any concession stands open. A crew of what appeared to be about five, including the team’s mascot, Harry the Hawk, instead was left to put together a decidedly more low-tech version of in-game entertainment.
Things got off to a bit of a slow start. Pregame intros were conducted without the use of the arena-rattling intro music and projector magic – in fact the projector wasn’t used once during the game. In its place was the standard “Ryan Cameron calls out the players’ names and they go through a high-five line” setup. Just before tip Kent Bazemore grabbed a microphone to thank the crowd for bothering to show up.
The first quarter’s timeout entertainment was mostly a collection of pre-taped video segments played on the jumbotron, several of them recognizable from earlier in the season; it was the sort of sponsored segment that would feature all of the players being asked whether they prefer the Simpsons or Family Guy, or showing Al Horford and Kyle Korver playing the pyramid game. A few of the more entertaining ones throughout the night featured players’ reactions to a still of Mike Scott with his head between the legs of a Bulls’ player in a game and their attempts to pronounce a German word introduced by Dennis Schroder.
The real magic started when the brave few in-game entertainment crew members started to get creative. Harry the Hawk performed his usual routine, but the others were forced into some more interesting skits, most of which involved dressing up one of the guys in various costumes. He started out with a simple routine wherein, dressed in a blue inflatable suit and a Dirk Nowitzki jersey, he was chased by Harry around the court during a timeout before being dragged out. During another timeout later in the game he showed up in one section wearing roughly 15 giveaway t-shirts, which he then stripped out of one by one, tossing them into the crowd. At some point he came out in an Angry Birds costume, and finally, when the final horn sounded, he was seen wandering around the court in a robe and oversized boxing gloves.
Absent the usual array of sponsored on-court timeout filler or a halftime performance, a lot of the dead time was filled by Harry helping out two kids in an obviously improvised race, trying to launch an overhead, facing-the-wrong-direction halfcourt shot (a staple of his performance that got a lot more play last night), or just throwing it over to Sir Foster, the brilliant in-game keyboard player, and letting him chew up a couple of minutes with keyboard versions of Outkast songs. It was not unlike what you’d expect to see in a documentary about the ABA, or at least a game at Philips Arena prior to this season.
The ABA feel to the proceedings was not helped by the comedy of errors in the first quarter. The game clock malfunctioned at least three times, a staple of Philips in the pre-Budenholzer era. Then there was what appeared to be a roof leak dripping on an area outside one of the 3-point lines, which mystically repaired itself to allow the action to continue.
Between the sparseness of the crowd, the lack of in-game theatrics, and the slow start by the Hawks on the floor, it seemed like something straight out of 2009. For a long time, the poor crowds and underdeveloped arena experience were something of a trademark. For various reasons that’s started to change, helped along in large part by the fact that it’s more fun to watch a good team than a mediocre or bad one. CEO Steve Koonin has also made a major effort to beef up the entertainment side of things, leading to things like implementing the projector system and booking T.I. for the home opener.
For one night, though, it was all back to the barest basics, and it was surprisingly fun once things got rolling. Fittingly, the night ended with the Hawks mounting a comeback and handily beating Dallas, who went cold from the field in the 2nd half. Koonin quickly grabbing the mic to wish everyone a safe ride home. It turned out that for most in attendance that wouldn’t be a problem – the snow and ice had mostly been relegated to an area far north of the city, but an overreaction to the weather just added to the experience.