Hawks fans turned into boo birds tonight as Orlando eviscerated Atlanta by a 105-75 count to take a commanding 3-0 lead in their Eastern Conference semis matchup.
Joe Johnson may have won a spot on the All-NBA Third Team, but in this game he looked more like Darko Milicic than a decorated star. He was 3-of-15 from the field and afterward gave folks this nugget to chew on in regard to the booing:
“That doesn’t bother me, and I hope it doesn’t bother anyone in this locker room,” Johnson said. “It’s about us in this locker room. We could care less if [fans] showed up.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Wow, way to ingratiate yourself to everyone when you’re on the eve of free agency. I wouldn’t be stunned if the landfill at the Moreland/285 interchange gets a sudden influx of Joe Johnson bobbleheads.
But I’m going to take an odd stance here and defend the guy, and here’s why: Atlanta is just flat out a terrible sports town.
Tonight’s attendance was a hard sellout with all of Philips Arena’s 18,729 seats being filled. And in Johnson’s five years with the team a sellout has definitely been the exception and not the rule.
This current series non-withstanding, the Hawks have had a hell of a season. But the fickle Atlanta fan base reacted to it by only filling the building to just over 88% capacity. That SOUNDS like a lot, but it was only good enough to rank the Hawks 18th in the league in attendance.
Compare that Oklahoma City, where a metropolitan population a fifth as large as Atlanta’s managed to keep the Ford Center at 99% capacity. That’s a higher percentage than the rabid fan bases in San Antonio and Utah. Hell, even the Knicks…THE KNICKS…drew better than the Hawks this season.
Naturally, the turnstiles in Atlanta were spinning even less frequently when the team was struggling to win games. In 2006-07, the franchise ranked 26th in the league in attendance. I was there for several games, and it could get lonely at times.
So to Johnson, a sellout crowd in his home arena is an anomaly. He’d probably be less surprised by the team signing Sasquatch to a 10-day contract than by every seat in Philips having a butt in it.
No dude wants to play badly in front of that many people, especially an All-NBA Third Teamer. So to screw up and then get booed for it by fairweather fans comes off as a slight. What right do these nitwits have to boo? Where were they on those nights when Johnson tore it up in front of a half filled house?
When the Braves were stringing together playoff appearance after playoff appearance, the city’s fans had the odd reaction of becoming LESS passionate about their team. Could you imagine empty seats in Boston or New York for a playoff game? In Atlanta it was a reality.
There are many excuses that can be made for why the Hawks attendance is what is: it’s a bad NBA city, Atlanta residents prefer to spend money on college sports, it’s a bad economy, and so on and so forth.
But to show up once in a blue moon and boo is downright petty. Yeah, the Hawks stopped caring tonight, but that only makes them a reflection of the city they play in.
Now the fans that stay the course, who show up game in and game out, THEY have the right to do whatever they want to (refer to the :47 second mark):