After blowing a slim fourth-quarter lead in a loss to Philadelphia on Sunday, the New York Knicks (3-4) needed to find some energy, passion, and focus in Milwaukee on Tuesday night.
Yet, for the second straight season, the Knicks were instead, flat from the start, and blown out of the Bradley Center in embarrassing fashion.
This time, it was by a score of 107-80, with one special section of Milwaukee Bucks fans once again lifting the home team to a quick start that effectively ended the game after the opening quarter.
That group of fans is the brainchild of the Bucks’ first overall draft pick in 2005, Australian-born center Andrew Bogut, who created Bogut’s Squad 6, both in tribute to Bogut’s uniform number 6 and because in an otherwise usually quiet building, the section represents the Bucks’ sixth man.
Tired of playing in front of a lackluster, rather uninvolved crowd and too many empty seats, Bogut formed the Squad 6 just prior to the beginning of last season, to simultaneously make the Bucks a tougher team to beat at home and to give back to truly hardcore Bucks fans.
The group’s primary responsibilities are simply show up in Bucks’ colors, be as loud and as enthusiastic as possible, and give the Bucks a home court edge that they would otherwise lack. Or, as Bogut said after Tuesday night’s win, to “bleed [the Bucks’] colors.
For that, the Squad 6 receives free tickets (each with a face value of close to $100), to Bucks home games, courtesy of an altruistic Bogut.
The tickets are sometimes complimentary or discounted for Bogut, so although it’s not the roughly $400,000 it would cost for about 100 Squad 6 fans to attend each of the Bucks’ 41 home games per season, Bogut, who made $10 million last season and who is earning a little over $11 million this year, is still voluntarily spending about $100,000 per season on Squad 6 fans.
Knowing that, how could any Bucks fan, whether a paying customer, proud Squad 6 member, or simply one who follows the team but who doesn’t attend Bucks’ games, not be an even bigger Bogut fan?
In turn, that collective attitude among Bucks fans, can only help the Bucks as a team.
Case in point, buoyed by Bogut’s boisterous Squad 6, the Bucks (3-5) stormed out to a 41-19 lead after the opening quarter on Tuesday night, and never looked back.
Madison Square Garden network play-by-play announcer Mike Breen, recognized the value of Squad 6 on the air on Tuesday, saying “It’s not a good crowd here, most of the upper deck is empty, but it sounds like a good crowd because of Squad 6. They make enough noise for everybody… in a building with a lot of empty seats, they make the building sound great.”
Earlier, as the first quarter wound down, Breen commented that, “There are two different energy levels right now.” Part of that was due to the Knicks’ own lack of vigor, but Breen’s observation was also directed at how Squad 6 affected the game both positively for the Bucks and negatively for the Knicks.
At one point, Knick guard Raymond Felton shot too quickly when the Squad 6 intentionally counted down the shot clock a little too early. Felton was far from the first visiting player to fall for that, and that move was just one of many that give the Bradley Center (at least in one section) much more of a fun and energetic college basketball feel than the too typical stale environment which is seen and heard in NBA arenas during the regular season.
In the game’s waning moment, with the Bucks holding a 23-point lead, Breen’s partner, color analyst Kelly Tripucka, noted the college basketball feel, saying “The Bucks are playing like it’s single elimination.”
Tripucka then added, I’m not sure how much energy would be in this building if not for that group. They’ve certainly added some pizzazz to the building.”
To become a part of the Squad 6, a Bucks’ fan has to audition and be judged prior to the start of the season. Almost all who try out usually make the cut, but if game attendance wanes or enthusiasm falters too much, a Squad 6 member, much like an underperforming player, can be quickly waived.
Bogut’s idea and generosity are especially refreshing in an age when professional sports is often too much about business – for players and teams – and not enough about the game, particularly as the average NBA fan has to watch every dollar, and can’t spare what he or she used to for entertainment, during a struggling economy.
What’s sad is that there aren’t many other players or teams, whether in the NBA or in the other main professional sports, following suit.
No one should be told how to spend their own money, regardless of how much they might earn. But, with fans being squeezed for high ticket and parking prices, and drastically over-priced concessions and official team merchandise, all during recessionary times, there might just be some room for many other multi-millionaire athletes or even multi-billionaire owners to follow Bogut’s lead.
So, here a call to all pro athletes and owners, and maybe even coaches:
Consider starting your own versions of Squad 6 and give back to at least a small portion of those who are responsible for putting you in the fortunate position of being very wealthy, famous, and adored, all while doing something you love as much as Squad 6 loves the Bucks.
In fact, one other NBA team, the Dallas Mavericks, already have, with their Painted Fan group. Fans who paint themselves in Mavericks colors, receive free lower-level standing-room ticket for Mavericks home games to similarly jump around and be heard all game long.
For owners, it makes perfect sense, even from a dollars and cents standpoint. If you create a better environment, not only will more paying customers be enticed to buy tickets and come back often, but as seen on Tuesday night, you’re helping your team win, which can only helps business.
In essence, you can make a building “your house” by giving away some tickets ON the house, to those who deserve them most.
From the players’ perspective, it’s the same. Regardless of Bogut’s own level of productivity, his numbers will always appear a lot better when his team is winning, and his team will likely win more often with a better home court advantage.
Of course that’s not the reason Bogut created the group, but that rationale makes the creation of something like Squad 6 a win-win situation for all.
It’s a shame that more players with huge contracts don’t see that the same way.