NBA vs Europe, Pt. 2
Casey explores the different fan experiences.
by Casey Jacobsen
Among the differences between NBA and European basketball is the in-game experience from the perspective of the fan. I’m not talking about the actual basketball game or the rule differences. The difference I am referring to can be boiled down to this:
• When you go to a basketball game anywhere in Europe at the top level, you are paying to watch a basketball game.
• When you go to a game in the NBA, you are paying to watch a basketball game and to be entertained.
I’m not going to argue which experience is better, but it is a significant difference that sets the NBA apart from all other basketball games that a person could attend. An NBA game is a full-scale production, from announcers to dancers to jumbo video screens and celebrities sitting courtside.
I don’t know the exact origins of this new culture, but I know that television contracts have a lot to do with it. Because every NBA game is at least on local (if not national) TV, there are frequent media-timeouts that break up the play. In order to keep customers happy and in their seats, most NBA teams have gotten really creative. Some favorite entertainment fillers include:
- Scantily clad dance teams
– Arena MCs who ask questions of fans to win prizes
– Half-court shots for cash prizes or automobiles
– Team mascot doing dunks off of trampolines
– Young team employees shooting t-shirts into crowd from a mini cannon
– “Kiss Cam” (one of the best ideas ever!)
– Pre-recorded prank videos of NBA players doing stupid stuff
Most of these do not exist in European basketball, with the exception of dance teams (half-naked women dancing and men’s sports is a world-wide marriage) and half court shots. Although if a contestant makes that half-court shot, he’ll probably be winning a washing machine, not a car. A veteran NBA fan might think a European game is dull by comparison, but you couldn’t be more wrong. It’s not more boring than the NBA… it’s just different. It’s more like college.
The arenas are smaller but it makes the noise level higher. Most arenas don’t have luxury boxes or jumbo video screens, so only the vital game statistics such as points and fouls are on display. There is halftime entertainment, but it’s usually local acts and lower-key. There are mascots in Europe, but the majority look like the type of giant stuffed animal you’d rent for your 3-year-old daughter’s birthday party. Dance teams are common, but they hardly resemble anything like their NBA counterparts. Our dance team in Germany, for instance, is made up of roughly 15 girls from ages 14-17, volunteering their time and efforts. They do their best, but the best way to accurately describe their style is to compare them to the seventh grade drill team at your local middle school.
But what the European games lack in dance teams and mascots, they more than make up with pure emotion and fan unity. In the NBA there are very few teams where “home-court advantage” makes a difference in the game (San Antonio, Dallas, OKC, Lakers are the only ones that come to mind), but practically all Euroleague teams are difficult to beat in their own arena.
Fans are often on their feet cheering loudly or singing songs. It is common for people to bring drums, trumpets and other horns to the games… anything that will make noise to distract the other team. European fans don’t have in-seat food menus so they can have their ultimate nachos delivered to them while they watch. They just want a beer to help lubricate their vocal cords so they can yell profanities at the referees. The die-hard fanatics paint their faces and bring giant signs to show support and these fans usually stand up for entire games. The fans act like those you see on college campuses, but with one big difference—these people aren’t college students! They are grown men and women who really love their team and city.
My current team, Brose Baskets, has an amazingly loyal fan base. The small town of Bamberg, Germany has adopted the nickname “Freak City,” referring to the basketball-crazed crowd that fills our 7,000-seat arena to capacity every game. They don’t mind being called “freaks.” In fact, they love it because it makes them feel a part of the team and in many aspects that’s exactly what they are. When our fans arrive at Stechert Arena on game day, they don’t expect to be entertained. They just want to cheer us onto victory.
That’s all the entertainment they need.
Casey Jacobsen is a former SLAM High School First-Team All-American and NCAA First-Team All-American. He currently plays for Brose Baskets in Bamberg, Germany.