It’s just simple math. On October 20th, the Baltimore Arena hosted the 2nd annual Baltimore Basketball Classic. An attempt to bridge the gap that grew in the basketball community when the Bullets left Baltimore for DC in 1973. The BBC showcases a pre-season Wizards game in the former home of the Bullets. The in-arena announcers bring up former Bullets players and attempt to arouse interest in basketball in the city.
The first year, 2013, was a huge success. The Wizards played against the New York Knicks and hometown guy Carmelo Anthony. The arena was sold out and so ill equipped to deal with a crowd at that size that simply getting into the arena caused me to miss the first quarter entirely. Even though the game was a pre-season game and the stakes were low it was englightning to see such energy for basketball in the city that hasn’t hosted a major team in 40 years.
In the next year, I spent a lot of time blogging about the ability for Baltimore to sustain a team. I used my first hand experience from that pre-season game to prove that yes, Baltimore fans would show up for an NBA caliber team. Give the lack of possibility for expansion and even if the league did add teams, Baltimore would be low on that list, the possibility of a D League team would satiate the masses. I wrote numerous blog posts for various sites about it, I had nice conversations with other Baltimore sports bloggers about the possibilities of it happening. We talked about the lack of arena to host the team, the lack of interest that seemed to be coming from the Mayors office about a team and the cagey nature of Ted Leonsis in revealing just what the Wizards D League plans were. I tried, and failed, to start hashtag campaigns to get a groundswell behind the idea that a D League team would thrive in Charm City.
Then on October 20th 2014, I went back to the Baltimore Arena for the 2nd BBC game. This time it was against the New Orleans Pelicans and the rising star of Anthony Davis. I made sure we got there early so we wouldn’t miss any time getting into the building. When we got off the bus, there were no lines with most of the attention centered around a small group of men there to protest, for some reason.
We were rushed into the arena and went up to the cheap seats I had purchased. There was no one on the 300 level. We pulled up into our relatively battered seats when an usher came up to us and asked to see our tickets. He immediately replaced them with ones that were practically on the floor. This was exciting for an upgrade, but as the minutes ticked down to tip off it was obvious why this happened.
They didn’t sell out. They didn’t even come close to selling out. The entire 300 level was moved down to the floor, because otherwise nobody would have been sitting that close to the game. The biggest cluster of fans appeared to be a group from an elementary school that was more excited to see G Wiz than the players on the floor.
Yes, it was true, John Wall and Paul Pierce were scratched from the lineup at the last minute. That may have contributed to the lack of attendance, but still, if you don’t show up, you don’t get a team. Teams will sit players, teams will sit stars, injuries will happen, guys need a rest. But the fans are still counted on to show up.
The drop in attendance was staggering and took me back. After a year of using empirical evidence to say “No, you’re wrong, the city can support basketball” I was proven wrong.
If tomorrow, Ted Leonsis and Stephanie Rawlings-Blake come out and say that a D League team will be here, I’ll be one of the first to buy a t-shirt, get tickets, start peddling my writing skills to sites to cover D League stuff about them. I love this city and I love basketball, but the two of them not loving each other breaks my heart.