Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Keep on Hecklin'

I just want to quickly talk about heckling, specifically pertaining to the so-called “basketball team” the New York Knicks and the head coach Isiah Thomas.

As we stated at the outset of this blog, Andrew and I are big hecklers. He’s on the road coming home for winter break, so I’ll give my reasoning as to why heckling is so appealing. First off, it’s wildly entertaining. To wittingly heckle is an art-form far removed from drunkenly screaming. It takes timing, poise, creativity and so forth. To heckle and receive a response from the player, the crowd, or both is quite satisfying. So you’re thinking - you just do it for attention?

But there’s more to it than that. It is, to an extent, about bringing attention to a cause (say, “Fire Isiah”). But as spectators, we pay a lot of money to cheer on our team and help the squad win. Heckling can at times be rude, boorish and disrespectful to fellow fans. But as long as it’s clean and creative, I see heckling as an integral part of my role as a fan. That role may be different for me as a loud, aggressive 21-year-old. But if I can distract players, make them feel uneasy, or simply get in their head, I may just be making a difference. It’s also a great challenge to see if you can throw a professional athlete off of his or her (although I haven’t really attended or therefore heckled at any professional women’s sporting events) game.

Most of these professionals make five times as much money in one year as fans will make their entire lives. Part of accepting such a lucrative deal, and part of playing a game for a living, is that you become susceptible to heckling. Players and coaches do their best to win on the court. Fans, while acting reasonably and not physically intruding, should do their best to help their team win. Not all fans need to heckle. But it shouldn’t be outlawed.

By now I’m in a full-fledged defense of harassing athletes. I guess it’s a reflex to opponents such as my Dad. But even he will tell you it can make a difference - as he saw at the Syracuse v. Washington basketball game played before a small crowd at MSG. My friends and I messed with the Huskies. We screamed that the shot clock was running out early, yelled for players to shoot it, and honestly, in a few instances, got them to jack up an ill advised shot. I realize that college might be a little different because they don’t get paid, but I figure a little good-natured ribbing never hurt anyone – especially someone attending college for free.

So where am I going with this? I’m not entirely sure. But what I’ve seen at Madison Square Garden recently is disgusting. Fans are being thrown out for raising “Fire Isiah” signs. Fans behind the bench have been punished or warned for speaking up at all against Isiah. Despite fans paying the players’ and coaches’ exorbitant contracts, and that money is going towards a woeful product, spectators are not allowed to speak up. It’s a terrible regime running the Garden these days, starting with owner James Dolan and running down to Isiah. Speech is censored, embarrassment is accepted and standing up and voicing displeasure warrants an ejection or punishment. The authoritarian regime of Mr. Dolan is doing a splendid job. Thankfully, some opposition is finally organizing, and hopefully by the All-Star break there will be a full fledged coup d’etat that will bring our Knicks back to respectability.

So I say, heckle away. Look at the attention it is getting in portraying Isiah and the management in a somewhat negative light. It’s keeping the Isiah debate at the forefront of New York sports. And if he can harass people and keep his job, well, we should be able to harass him too and keep our seats.

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