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.
Playoffs in the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League, the world hockey championship and the announcement of World Cup rosters have all garnered headlines in sports sections across the country.
But one piece of news was sure to rankle Canadian sports fans more than the rest – Roy Halladay’s return to the Rogers Centre in late June has been relocated to Philadelphia.
The series was supposed to be a homecoming for the former Jay who is now anchoring the Phillies' rotation.
However, because of a security perimeter set up around the Metro Toronto Convention Centre for the G-20 Summit, Halladay won’t be returning to his old stomping grounds until at least 2011. That is when the Jays and Phillies will next face each other in inter-league play.
Although this year’s series will now be held in Citizens Bank Park, the Blue Jays will still be the home team of record, with the American League’s designated hitter rule in effect and Toronto still getting to hit at the bottom of the inning.
“We would have been bringing people down into an area where people aren’t being asked to come to,” said Blue Jays president and chief operating officer Paul Beeston.
Although safety concerns should be a primary concern of the Toronto franchise’s front office, they could have handled this situation better.
After all, American League rules won’t protect the Blue Jays from Philadelphia’s notoriously obnoxious hecklers. Having the last at bats of the game won’t mitigate the fatigue of travel. It really isn’t an ideal alternative.
The Phillies will also be seeing some kind of profit margin from this change of scenery. Although Beeston insists the endeavour will probably be revenue neutral, I find it hard to believe that the Jays wouldn’t have benefited from a temporary boost in attendance figures.
It would also have been cathartic for a beleaguered Toronto fan base that is still reeling from the loss of Halladay, arguably the greatest player in franchise history.
A better idea would’ve been to put the series at PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. It would still be some distance for Toronto fans to travel, but it would also have been a long drive for the Phillies and their supporters.
Pirates fans would be just as likely to root against their Pennsylvanian rivals as they would be to boo the Blue Jays, so it would eliminate Philadelphia’s home-field fan advantage.
Another logical choice would have been Coca Cola Field, home of the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. Even closer to Toronto than Pittsburgh, the park has a capacity of 18,025. That’s not up to Major League Baseball’s usual standards, but it would definitely be big enough to hold Toronto’s average crowd of 15,207.
Again, the New York state crowd would be just as apt to heckle the Phillies as they would the Blue Jays.
The move to Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park is yet another failure by the Toronto Blue Jays front office to show any kind of respect for its fan base. They could have done better. Done more than just shrug and brush off any concerns at a press conference.
Moving from the Rogers Centre for the duration of the G-20 summit was necessary, but it seems like they put little thought into viable alternatives. Beeston and company have mishandled the situation and done their supporters a disservice.