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Monday, Nov. 3, 2008

Opening Night

Sports in Real Life

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Opening nights can be a great scene. Flowers sent backstage, good wishes to 'break a leg,' the makeup, the costumes. Oh yeah, that's a Broadway show, not the NBA.

Perhaps I spoke too quickly.

The Bucks opened their latest home campaign with a bang, a Bango and a boom. It was an interesting confluence of elements at the Bradley Center on Saturday night. Since Bucks head coach Scott Skiles was in high school, flash has been as much a part of an NBA game as the ten players running back and forth between the baskets. The shorts have grown in length, the volume of music has been increased, t-shirts magically fall from the ceiling. Call it a necessity, a matter of economics, or just the way the league likes it to be.

Some of the events surrounding the game in the Bradley Center were entertaining, others a tad puzzling. There were enough pyrotechnics blasting off to make Gene Simmons of Kiss wish he were in his demon suit. Bango, the team's mascot and resident ten point buck, was levitated by one of those hydraulic lifts, emphasizing the team's new slogan, Ready to Rise.

On the opposite side of the court the team was introduced individually and climbed a set of stairs to a makeshift balcony. This was odd for a sporting event. It was equally part Romeo and Juliet and Evita, when Eva Peron graced her adoring public. Fans saw a bunch of tall guys on a pulpit offering a sermon in team warm-ups. It was a unique set up, but not necessarily effective.

There's a new guy who roams the venue with a microphone, a Zak Efron wannabe, and I don't like him. Giving this kid a chance to rant on a microphone is akin to giving a five-year-old a bucket of black enamel paint to have fun. He's a hipper-than-thou kid who missed the cut on the Disney Channel. His hair spiked, with a rock star indifference, he tries to energize the crowd and entreats them to pay attention to an act or cheer the team.

Like it or not, this appears to be the way pro sports are heading-the game on the field or in the arena isn't enough to satisfy or entertain. I'm not saying this is limited to the Bucks; this is my assessment of sports in general.

I was struck by the lack of fans in the stands for a home opener. In years past a home opener was a big deal. Fans in the nose-bleed seats, scalpers in front of the Bradley Center were commonplace. This was not the case Saturday night. Perhaps this could be blamed on the horrendous economy, the collapse of the disposable income as we know it, or just a slow day at the office. I haven't paid for a professional sports ticket in a long while. (One exception-I took my wife and girls to see a Brewers game this summer, courtesy of StubHub). Other than that, it's been 15 years.

What does it take for someone to muster up the considerable amount of cash to take their family to an NBA game? If it's a winning team, the Bucks will have to pin their hopes on Scott Skiles improving this team, and in a hurry. While beginning this piece, I watched a moment of Steve "The Homer" True on television. He was rambling about how $10 dollar seats wouldn't be purchased by the public. He went so far as to say if they were given away, they'd have a hard time.

I think it's unfortunate. The Bucks have always been a class-oriented franchise. Team director of public relations, Dan Smyczek, is as good as they get.

Coaches and general managers take the heat for something out of their realm of responsibility. When changes had to be made, Senator Herb Kohl stepped up to the plate and made them. If money had to be spent, he spent it. The Bucks have displayed a lot of toughness in choosing players in the draft who basically told the team to take a hike. Actions like this should be commended. Now they have Scott Skiles, whose reputation as a hard-ass tends to precede him. "Anyone who has written that about me has never been to one of my practices or seen me coach a game," Skiles said before the opener. As a seasoned reporter commented, 'Yeah, but he can stare right through you.'

In the end it's going to be about chemistry and timing. Hopefully Skiles can get this group of talented guys to play defense. Saturday's game was not a blowout, and the team came from a large deficit and made it a real game.

I spent many third shifts in my youth working an authentic French bakery making baguettes, morning buns, croissants, brioche, quiche, and other fancy, artery clogging goodies. We'll have to wait until May or June of next year to see if this team was in fact, like a pound of yeast infused dough, Ready to Rise.