Tuesday, 25 May 2010

My NBA Tour, Part 1 - The First Taste

When I came to the US and Canada, one of my goals was to see lots of NBA games. To be specific, it was to see all 30 NBA teams live, and to see at least one game in each of the 29 NBA venues.

In the 11 months I’ve been on the trip so far, I’ve managed to make quite a dent in that goal, having attended 12 NBA games, in nine different cities, featuring 15 different teams. And boy has it been fun.

Over the next few weeks I’ll blog about some of the best and worst experiences of those 12 games, starting this week with my first NBA game, and my first chance to see my favourite team – the Toronto Raptors.

The First Taste

My first NBA experience came in the pre season, when I went to a fixture between the visiting Philadelphia 76ers and the New York Knicks. This meant one thing – Madison Square Garden! Easily the most famous basketball arena in the world, the stadium was as much a part of the draw as the actual game.

The other main draw? Knicks fans. They’re known to be some of the harshest in the league, and on this day, they didn’t disappoint, booing their own player, Larry Hughes mercilessly. He has since been traded.

As it was a pre season game, there was nothing on the line, so players were somewhat going through the motions, but it was great to finally see some NBA action live in person after watching it on TV for almost 20 years.

My Favourite Team

One of the things I was looking forward to the most was seeing my favourite team, the Toronto Raptors play. While most NBA fans I knew back in Australia were fans of the big market teams like the Lakers or Bulls, I started following the Raptors when they joined the league back in 1995 after being a general NBA fan without a team for several years before that. The chance to finally see them play live was something I’d been looking forward to for years – so when I did get the chance, I tried to make it count, going to their first two home games of the season.

I was full of excitement going into the home opener against the reigning Eastern Conference Champion Orlando Magic. The Raptors were coming off an opening night win over the Cleveland Cavaliers and looked to finally have a team capable of competing. That part appeared to be a stretch.

The Magic, while without former Raptor Vince Carter, took control of the game early and never really let up, despite some spirited runs by the Raptors.

Despite the loss, it was great to finally be there. Being in a stadium full of Raptors fans (I’d never met another Raptor fan in Australia…not one) and being able to talk to them about our team. The pre game hype, the in game entertainment and watching Raptors franchise player, Chris Bosh, go for 35 and 16.  Above all it was great just to be there.

The problem was – it was over. But not for long. Luckily, since NBA teams play 41 home games a year, its never long before another opportunity comes along. Just a couple days later the Detroit Pistons hit town, and it was another chance to see the Raptors perform – and this time, they did just that. Watching them win the game – and the 20,000 strong crowd get behind them – would be one of the highlights of my sport watching life.

I did get to see the Raptors play on one more occasion, when they travelled to Portland to take on the Trailblazers. With Portland just six hours south of my current location of Vancouver, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to get to a Raptors games on the road. Unfortunately the Raptors were in the midst of a late season slump which saw them narrowly miss the playoffs. While the result was disappointing, I still had a lot of fun – the worst times watching your favourite team play are still pretty good.

I’d previously travelled to Portland (with a bunch of strangers) when I first arrived in Vancouver to watch the Blazers host the Houston Rockets, and its hard not to love the Blazers crowd – who sell out every game – even when they’re pummelling your team.

While I only went one-from-three in games watching my Raptors play this season, I’m looking forward to seeing them more while I’m living closer to Toronto in the 2010-2011 season.

Part 2 of My NBA Tour Blogs, will be about the only real low of my trip so far - Detroit.

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