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Here’s the answer to whether or not Miami is a basketball town

Is Miami a basketball town or not? Surprise. It’s like any other NBA city. You have some diehard fans, the casual fans and a lot of people who just wind up with a ticket somehow. Some cities have more of one of those categories, some have less, most have a bit of a balance between all three. But here’s a constant in pretty much all of these cities: If the team doesn’t put out a good product the people, whether they’re "true" fans or bandwagon fans, stay away from the games. Yes, even in such cities where fans are held in higher regard because their teams have more history like Boston or Philadelphia. Imagine that. Let’s take a glance at attendance figures in tandem with a team’s wins and losses. (Yes I know teams aren’t the most accurate when it comes to this, but since all teams do it then it’s fair game.) This past season the NBA’s #1 team in home attendance was the Chicago Bulls followed by the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Miami Heat came in right in the middle at #15, appropriate for an average team but ahead of Phoenix and Orlando who had better records yet don’t have this undeserved reputation of lacking true fans (whatever that means). What a shock, most bad teams have lower attendance than teams that have better records. Should it surprise you that the Nets had the worst attendance numbers this year? How about Cleveland in the second spot this year, the city with such die-hard fans that you would think have stood by their team through good and bad every year? Last in attendance in 2003 when they only won 17 games, the only team that year with less than 500,000 total and a paltry 11,496 average per game. The next year after you-know-who joined the team? All the way up to #9 spot along with an improvement of 35 wins. As the wins piled up in subsequent years so did their increase in attendance. Coincidentally the same thing happened for the Miami Heat, the NBA team that may or not may have true fans like Cleveland apparently does. In fact, even though the Cavs went up to the #6 spot in 2005, the Heat were at #4. The next year in 2006 the Cavs were at #5 and the Heat were still better at #4. Ah, but those years the Heat were an elite NBA team headed by Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade. Of course fans showed up when the team was winning plenty of games, you say. OK, so how about 2008 when the Heat won only 15 games, two less than Cleveland did in 2003 when nobody showed up? The Heat were still in the top 10 at #8 with almost 800,000 total for a respectable average of 19,463 per game (8,000 more Heat fans per game than Cavs fans in 2003). No question that Boston is a great sports town but the Celtics only averaged 439 more people a game than Miami did this year. In 2005 they were #24 in the league in attendance only ahead of Milwaukee, New Jersey, Orlando, Charlotte, Atlanta and New Orleans. In 2006 they were #18, 2007 they were down to #20. But somehow in 2008 they went up to #12, isn’t that curious? I wonder what could have caused the spike in attendance. What happened to all those Wizards fans that put Washington second in league attendance in 2003 when Michael Jordan was playing his last season? That’s about 4,000 missing fans now in 2010. That’s a lot of milk cartons that need to be printed up. It may sound like it, but I’m not knocking these teams. It’s great if you have diehard fans like in Chicago who consistently put the Bulls in the top ten but I think it’s even better motivation for the owners and the franchises to field a competitive squad and sign or trade the best players possible in order to get fans, or whoever, to get in those seats. Why should someone in Miami be compelled to go watch the Heat if Chris Quinn is your starting point guard? Regardless, since the Heat has drafted Wade, the only time the Heat has been in the bottom half of the league in attendance was his first season. For that matter, does it truly matter if you’re a more knowledgeable fan of basketball than someone else in another town? I know I don’t get a ticket discount for knowing who Vladimir Stepania is. What difference does it make to the team whether a ticket is sold to a diehard fan or to an old lady or a child who’s never been to a game? Although it’s great that you’re reading this blog so it’s apparent you have an interest in the Heat and the NBA in general but this isn’t an elitist sporting event. Everyone has the right to attend a game, enjoy it (or not) and perhaps even a newbie to the sport who has never been to a game becomes a lifelong fan. In fact, I’d rather sit next to a quiet person who’s taking in a game and trying to figure out what’s going on than a loudmouth fan who thinks he should coach the team from the 300 level. It makes no difference to my enjoyment of the game if I’m seated with diehard fans or not and it’s even more irrelevant if I’m watching the game at home. I’m well aware that most of the good seats are taken up by corporate accounts and those tickets are likely used to butter up clients than for diehard fans to enjoy. All I care is that the revenue from all those Heat tickets helped sign some pretty good players this summer. The Heat have always been good to their season ticket holders and consistently enjoy solid TV ratings. Before you dismiss Miami as not having true fans than feel free to join me for a game up in the 400 level and you’ll see how just about every demographic in South Florida is represented up there in the nosebleed sections that are full of people who may not be able to afford the seats that you see in the background on TV but are just as passionate about the game than any other basketball fan in this country. Matthew thinks Miami is an event town. That’s true to a certain degree but this isn’t particularly unique for a large city. This is fairly obvious yet it’s still annoying that Miami is singled out as if it’s the only town that has bandwagon fans. Bill Simmons, in trashing Miami after signing LeBron James, seems to believe only old franchises have a right to be elite teams because they have "history". Conveniently like his Celtics, whose fans only this year put them in the top ten in attendance at #9 even during this latest surge up the standings thanks to two All-Stars from other teams that couldn’t win a ring so they had to join another All-Star’s "team" to win it all. (To be fair the Celtics do have a smaller arena, about a thousand seats smaller than AAA and they filled it up last year. But that's the downside of using average percentages versus simply counting attendance, the numbers can be misleading. Regardless, attendance fluctuates along with the team's success using either method and the main point is that Miami isn't especially unique in that regard.) Above all, I think it’s a generational thing, no matter what town we’re looking at. The only team in Miami that’s been around long enough to have generations of fans are the Dolphins and they’re known to have great fans. How is it Miami’s fault their other 3 professional franchises were expansion teams? Regardless, all of the teams have tons of great fans and that’s not even getting into the numerous college teams in South Florida. And I don’t want to hear the argument that fans here show up late at Heat games unless you’ve tried to make it to downtown Miami right after rush hour and could find parking easily that’s close to the arena and make it through security before the national anthem is starting up. Don’t knock it unless you’ve tried it. These aren’t excuses to defend Miami as a town that "deserves" to have three great players and have an elite team, it’s to prove that it’s all a matter of perception. The Heat have fans around the world and will have plenty more as the years go by with Wade, LeBron and Chris Bosh dominating the NBA headlines. If you have a problem with that then you have probably forgotten just how many Chicago Bulls "fans" there were everywhere when Jordan was ruling the NBA. I was a little kid back then but I doubt they were fans because of Bill Wennington. Yes, there are plenty of other things to do in Miami than watch a bad team lose games. But the same goes for any other city, no matter how long they’ve been in the league.