Have we lost the spirit of the game?

In my wildest dreams, I couldn’t have imagined that attending our first professional basketball game in Portland last weekend would make me so perturbed and agitated. To be honest, my attendance at professional sports events has been extremely limited, considering I grew up in rural Vermont. Even though my father was a die heart sports fan, who watched football religiously each Monday night and always adored his Miami Dolphins, I only remember attending one or two professional games as a kid. Those were Red Sox’s games at Fenway Park in Boston and I remember enjoying the experience very much. When I attended college in the 1990’s, I attended a few games in Los Angeles and also have fond memories of the LA Lakers and LA Kings.

So this weekend, when my husband and I attended a Trailblazers game here in Portland as part of the Jewish community’s Hanukkah celebration I expected the same excitement. My 10-year-old son inherited his grandfather’s love of sports and was anticipating the event all weekend. As an added bonus, when we had stopped by the “Everything Jewish” store a few days before the game to buy some Hanukkah candles the owner, a Rabbi who had organized the event, offered my son a present in honor of his birthday, the opportunity to be on the court and greet the players–slapping hands with them as they entered the court. My son could not have been more thrilled at the added opportunity. As we walked out of the store, he was clapping his hands and so excited to share with his friends this amazing birthday gift he had just received.

The evening started out well. We enjoyed a pre-Hanukkah meal with latkes and jelly donuts and live holiday music provided in a separate ballroom at the coliseum. Next, my son got his opportunity to go down to the court and loved slapping hands with the players as they ran past the boys and girls onto the court. However, for me that was where the fun ended. Immediately, I felt like I was attending a circus rather than a professional basketball game.

There was so much “show” in the game that the actual game almost lost it’s significance. A floating blimp dropped free tickets to the local ballet and a local bank dropped $50 Visa gift cards from the ceiling of the stadium, there were free t-shirts ricocheted from launchers on the floor into the audience, entire sections received free pizza, there were coupons for free breakfast sandwiches, and at the last second of the game when one of the Trailblazers got a foul ball to bring the final score to a hundred points, every audience member received a coupon for a chalupa on their way out of the stadium. On the court between the endless, time outs and fouls, there were several groups of show girls, kids competing on tricycles racing to win Egg McMuffins sandwiches for a section of audience members. I had remembered half time from the previous sports games I’d seen on television but not constant “shows” all through the game. Honestly, with all the distractions and hubbub going on, it was hard to concentrate on the game. I never even saw the tip off to start the game.

After the game, I was irritated and bothered by what I had just experienced. I had attended a holiday show at my daughter’s arts magnet public school a few days before the game and learned that there are more than 1,500 homeless youth in my own school district and that the district is working hard to help combat this unacceptable situation. Sitting in the stadium and seeing money literal fall from the ceiling made me kind of sick to my stomach. Of course, the bank would choose such a large audience to make this kind of gesture. It’s great publicity. But all I could think of was how much good each of those $50 Visa cards could do for local kids who aren’t getting the kind of shelter, food and clothing they need. I had also attended a luncheon recently for a networking group that was raising funds to help our local Dress for Success chapter and was asking that each luncheon guest give $10 so that low income women in their program could get undergarments this year. That same $50 could buy five women those undergarments.

I felt like I had also participated in the madness in a big way. The evening set us back close to $250 for our four 200 level seats for $42 each, plus the junky soda, peanuts, frozen yogurt and carmel apples we purchased at almost $55. I suppose with the kind of media circus and high level stimulation these sports teams want to create they have to charge this kind of money.

I truly hope my limited experience with professional sports is not accurate. I am sure these teams and players must do their share of goodwill in the community, I just wish the team had worked harder to showcase more of that with less “noise” and distractions from the game. There was one reference to a local bakery that had volunteered to bake hundreds of pies and serve them during a recent game but again, it was lost in all noise I can hardly recall what they actually said about this good deed!

How can it possibly be that every arts organization I know and even the local school districts are struggling to get by and cut budgets and close schools and the sports teams seem to be making out like bandits throwing money from the ceiling, giving away food and clothing to a drunken, loud mouthed, rude unsportsmanlike like audience. Something is amiss with this picture and I for one am disturbed by it immensely.

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