Two huge disclaimers to get this started. First, I personally am a self-declared fair-weather fan when it comes to the Sixers. I want them to win, I enjoy them when they're winning, but I am not tuned-in—much less present at the arena—when times are tough. I go to a few games per season, winning or not, but my enthusiasm is negligible when the team stinks. The Sixers certainly have their diehards, and a few write for this site. I'm just not one of them. Second disclaimer: What Kevin Garnett thinks about Philly fans is about as relevant as what Old Man Knees thinks of the TD Garden security staff. So we'll just give this a quick minute, link to some telling numbers that Spike Eskin put together, and move on to the game at hand tomorrow night.
If you haven't heard or read already, here's what KG had to say about the difference between Celtics fans and Sixers fans, via NESN:
“Not even close,” Garnett said. “You’ve got fans, and then you’ve got fair-weather fans. Take that how you want.”
“[Celtics fans] it for 48 minutes from the tip on, so I can’t see a difference from minute to minute,” Garnett said. “I feel like every minute I look up, I see my family, I see people yelling, I see the drunk, fat guy. I can’t decipher one from the other. This crowd is ridiculous. I love it.”
With the Sixers playing somewhere between poor and mediocre basketball for nearly a decade, fan support has indeed fallen off. But, new ownership and an early surge of success saw an embarrassingly empty arena start to fill to a more respectable level, with some nights downright frenzied. Still, KG has a point. When the team was losing, the fans weren't there in droves. When they started winning, the fans returned.
Only thing is, the same thing happened in Boston…
Check out the numbers Spike put together at CBS Philly on where the Celtics and Sixers ranked during previous winning and losing seasons.
Great stuff by Spike, and if you dig even further, you'll probably see similar trends around the league.
The Sixers' season may end tomorrow at home, or it may live to fight another day. Either way, the 2011-2012 season will hopefully be remembered as a turnaround season for the fan experience as well as the on-court product. While Garnett was right to a degree, the fans didn't just come because the team was winning. On plenty of nights, they weren't. The Sixers won four more games than they lost this season (.530). Last season, they played .500 basketball. However, their percent-capacity attendance jumped from 72.6 to 86.1 from last season to this one. A lot of factors come into play, but I doubt the fair weather of being four games over .500 was the biggest reason for a 13.5% increase in attendance.
This season is tough to gauge in terms of these trends because it was shortened by the NBA's work stoppage. Did fan support wane in any way due to games not being played until Christmas? Or did the abbreviated schedule help concentrate the fan presence on game nights? Hard to say for sure.
The timing of the Sixers' early success probably helped quite a bit, but a change in ownership and efforts to bring the team back to prominence, focusing on the in-house fan experience (complete with better deals on tickets) likely had more to do with it. People are more excited about pro basketball in Philly than they've been in years. But, there's still a long way to go before the full engagement potential is reached.
Tomorrow night, KG will likely hear a large chorus of boos from the fans he just insulted. On the one hand, that may seem a dumb motivator to hand a desperate crowd. On the other, he was answering a question asked specifically about his thoughts on how the two crowds compare, and likely playing to his own. Plus, KG's not one to have a nervy game just because an away crowd is getting on him all night.
Either way, it gives some added fervor to a do-or-die night in South Philly.