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.
As a budding sports journalist I am supposed to shed all my personal biases. It’s one of the key sayings in the business – No cheering in the press box. You stand for the anthem, you might clap if an injured played is able to rise to their feet, but that’s it.
The reason behind this anti-fandom is obvious: we don’t want to betray any sort of favourite because the relationship between journalists and their audience relies heavily on the media remaining impartial. Readers need to know that our articles or reports aren’t filtered by any agendas.
That said – I’m glad I’m not covering the Orlando Magic during the National Basketball Association playoffs because I sure am conflicted about them.
Like most Torontonians, I have a deep-seeded loathing of Vince Carter. It runs deeper and longer than my career as a sports journalist, so it's difficult to shrug off.
The animosity toward Carter stems from the 2004 season – his last with the Raptors – when there was a noticeable drop in his production on the court. He was traded to the New Jersey Nets that December for what amounted to spare parts, damaging the team for the next few years.
In early January 2005, TNT's John Thompson asked Carter if he always played hard.
“In years past, no,” he replied. “I was fortunate to have the talent. You get spoiled when you're able to do a lot of things. You see that you don't have to work at it.”
As you can imagine, this flew as well as a lead balloon in Raptor-land.
Now Carter is with the Orlando Magic, one of the three best teams in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, and playing against the over-matched Atlanta Hawks.
Orlando is seemingly destined to move on to the next round of the post-season after beating the Hawks 112-98 on Thursday night to take a 2-0 series lead.
Worse yet, there is a lot to like about the Magic. They’ve got a cast of young players that have an up-tempo style of play. Their success has lead to a nice rivalry with LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers, a possible opponent in the Conference Final. Most basketball fans would agree that if the Cavs and Magic meet in the playoffs, as they did last season, it'd be one of the most exciting pairings of the post-season.
In particular, centre Dwight Howard is one of the most charming players in the league. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year has thrilled at Slam Dunk competitions and always remains playful with interviewers and fans.
He’s the kind of player that you want to see succeed. But his progress will drag Carter along, putting many Torontonians, myself included, in a difficult position. We want Howard and the Magic to thrive, but is it too late for Orlando to trade away Carter?
Thank God I don’t have to report on this series. It’d be too hard to stay objective.
Every morning I try to come up with a new idea to blog about. Sometimes I’ve already been turning an idea over in my head for a day or two, other times I have to spend hours scouring websites and watching various sports channels to try to come up with a good idea.
The challenge is coming up with an original angle, something to give my readers that is new and different. Often this means avoiding topics that the mainstream media is all over.
But how can I avoid talking about the Montreal Canadiens' incredible 2-1 Game Seven victory over the Washington Capitals last night?
I’m glad that I didn’t commit any kind of National Hockey League post-season because I would have never picked the Habs to better the Capitals. In fact, if anything, I would’ve picked top-seeded Washington to sweep Montreal right out of the playoffs.
I had figured that although the combination of Jose Theodore and Semyon Varlamov has been a shaky goalie-by-committee for the Caps all season, they were no worse than the netminder hydra of Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak.
Surely, Montreal’s pop-gun offence would’ve been no match for the Washington juggernaut. The Canadiens had no corresponding Mike Green. No Nicklas Backstrom or Alexander Semin. And Alex Ovechkin? He was several tiers above any forward the Habs have on their payroll.
Heck, months ago I claimed that general manager Bob Gainey’s sudden departure from the Habs would prove to be a distraction for the seemingly playoff-bound franchise.
Well, I’m not too proud to admit that I was wrong on all counts.
Halak, of course, was money for Montreal in the final games of the series. He stopped just about everything that came his way and stymied the league’s best offence.
Speaking of stopping shots – Hal Gill, Josh Gorges and especially Jaroslav Spacek put their bodies on the line shift after shift, cutting down passing lanes and blocking half of Washington’s chances.
All that defensive effort created tons of opportunities for Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta. Although all three are often maligned for being relatively short (Gionta is the shortest at 5’7”) they stood tall for the Canadiens and provided a crucial spark for the Habs.
Now Montreal is taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins, the defending Stanley Cup champions, and again they’re big underdogs. I want to count them out again, say that there’s no way that their sound defensive system can create back-to-back upset.
But hey, I’ve been wrong before.