On Thursday night, I watched Game 7 of the NBA Finals – well, I watched the second half anyway – and this morning I am watching the Final of the ICC Champions Trophy.
I am not going to compare and contrast the two sports – they are so diametrically different that that would be a silly and churlish exercise. Like comparing Beethoven to Katy Perry.
But I want to make a note about the fans at each game. First: the NBA.
It was Game Seven of the Finals: the Miami Heat, who for really ridiculous reasons are the NBA’s most hated franchise, against the San Antonio Spurs, who became the darling of all the neutral fans mostly because they were not the Miami Heat.
All of that added a real flavor to the game, and plus it was game seven, one of the greatest events in sport, and it was the Finals, and it was Lebron, the greatest player of his generation.
But, the fans in Miami, like all fans in the NBA, still needed to be told when to cheer. Like sheep being herded into a pen.
I mean, when your team is up by four with three minutes to play and the other team has the ball, you shouldn’t need urging from the PA Announcer and the electronic scoreboard to chant “DEE! FENSE! DEE! FENSE!”.
But NBA fans do, for some reason, and I think that is just plain dumb.
And some might say that the Miami Heat are the exception, that they have really terrible fans, and while that might be true, every NBA team prompts their fans to cheer certain ways at certain moments. The same is true in baseball, and gridiron football.
It takes all of the rock n’ roll out of sport. All of the spontaneity. And, I dare say, a great deal of the fun. It turns the fans from a living, breathing part of the game, into a group of corporate automatons.
My American friends often ask me “why cricket?” – and while the answer changes daily, today the answer is: because cricket fans don’t need to be told when to cheer and when not to.
All of that said, it was a cracking game. If the NBA was always that entertaining it would be bigger than the NFL and the Premier League combined.
Watching the Champions Trophy this morning and I have to give credit to the fans: Edgbaston has a party-like atmosphere, despite all of the rain and start/stop nature of the game. They have been patient, engaged, and loud.
And also: 90% Indian.
When the USA Men’s Soccer team plays a home match against Mexico, or a Central or South American squad, the crowds are decidedly for their opponents – unless the game is in the northern half of the country.
But that is expected, because soccer is not that big of a deal in America, and we have a large immigrant population. But cricket was invented in England, and while they also have a large immigrant population, it does not change the fact that the game is no longer England’s…it is India’s. And the makeup of the crowd today in Birmingham is emblematic of that fact.
The future of the game lies in Southeast Asia, and not in Northwest England.
But today is today, the future is not here quite yet, and England is having a real go at India’s top order, and this might just be their day.
England beating India in a limited overs tournament final, in England, in front of decidedly Indian contingent, shows how healthy the sport really is.
**UPDATE** Of course, India ended up winning in thrilling fashion, so the sentence should read: India beating England, in England…etc.
And that’s not even mentioning that the match is being broadcast live and legal on ESPN3 here in the USA.
Despite everything, and I know most of you will disagree: it’s been a good day for cricket.