An interesting experiment occurred on Thursday night as the Boston Celtics eliminated the Cleveland Cavaliers from the National Basketball Association’s Eastern Conference semifinal with a 94-85 victory.
As league MVP LeBron James stepped up to the free throw line in the second half the Boston crowd began to chant “New-York-Knicks! New-York-Knicks!”, referring to one of the more moribund destinations that the soon-to-be free agent might head to in the offseason.
Later, the Celtic faithful began to chant “MSG! MSG!”, the acronym for Madison Square Gardens, the home of the Knicks.
This was all part of a grand scheme concocted by ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons, Boston’s most famous sports fan, and it may just revolutionize spectatordom.
Earlier in the week, Simmons created a Twitter account called CelticsChants for the express purpose of organizing chants for the decisive Game 6 of the Cleveland-Boston series in an attempt to get under the skin of James and affect the outcome of the game.
“Even if 500 people at the game were following that account, wouldn't that be enough fans to get those chants rolling so everyone in the stadium joined in?” said Simmons in an article posted on Tuesday. “Just for fun, I'm trying this for Game 6 in Boston.”
It seemed to work.
Although James led Cleveland with an impressive triple-double (27 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists), he seemed distracted by the taunts. He was an inefficient shooter, making just eight of 21 field goal attempts and sinking nine of 12 from the free throw line.
Worse yet, the rest of the Cavaliers seemed rattled by the crowd and the thought that this might be James’ last game with the team. Cleveland shot .384 from the floor and .681 on foul shots.
By the final minute of play the Cavs looked listless and totally uninterested in playing. There’s no doubt that they were out-played by the Celtics, but the stinging heckles from the crowd was driving them to distraction.
Simmons certainly seemed pleased with himself as the game wound down.
“Mission accomplished - the last chant was deafening. Thanks so much to everyone who participated + spread the word,” he said via the CelticsChants Twitter account. “Next up: Orlando.”
Perhaps more than anyone else in journalism, Simmons understands new media like blogs, podcasts and Twitter. It’s not surprising that he’s come up with such an ingenious way of employing cell phones to influence games.
It’s the most organized a crowd has been since the 1980s when hooligan supporters of Chelsea F.C. used walkie-talkies and binoculars to direct their attacks against the supporter mobs of other teams.
Obviously, it’s much less malevolent and hopefully more likely to catch on than the English ploy. With sports fans increasingly tech savvy, it’s easy to imagine that this innovation catching on with other teams.
There’s no doubt that Game 6 of the Cleveland-Boston series was an exciting game. LeBron James may have played his last game with the Cavaliers and the Celtics are in the midst of a surprising playoff run. But in the long run, the most interesting development may be that Bill Simmons has added a new wrinkle to the NBA that might outlast the results of the game itself.