Joining the Crowd
by Daniel Banks, PhoenixMercury.com

Having worked in professional sports for the past six years, it’s safe to say I am used to the game night atmosphere. I know the difference between a Hot Timeout and a regular one. I know the lyrics to “Hit Me with Your Best Shot”. When the noises, songs, and halftime acts are so familiar it can sometimes feel like a routine. That wasn’t the case Tuesday night at the US Airways Center.

I attended the Game 1 of the Finals as a fan. I put my badge away, threw on some jeans and (thanks to a friend in the sales department) enjoyed some amazing lower-level seats just 6 rows up from the court. Despite the great seats, I was still not into the game. I was cheering, sure, but the way I’d cheer for a team I was watching on television. The magic of being at a live game didn’t hit me until I noticed the family in front of me.

A father and mother had their eyes on the court while a young girl between them – couldn’t have been more than six or seven years old – was also intently watching the action. At one point, Diana Taurasi drove the basket and a foul by Katie Douglas sent her to the floor. The little girl turned immediately to the man and moved her hands to make an emphatic statement in sign language. One of my friends had taken a class in sign language as their foreign elective in college and translated, “that blonde girl just pushed her down!”

From that moment on I would glance down and check in on the family every few minutes. The father would sign to his daughter explanations for different fouls or rules, and they’d smile big and high-five with every Mercury score. It was obvious that they weren’t used to sitting so close to the court by the way they took picture after picture including cheesy self portraits destined for the pages of a photo album.

Their exuberance was contagious. Even though I’ve been to countless basketball games, I experienced it all as if it was new and became a part of the crowd instead of a spectator of it. I pumped my fist with each Penny Taylor score, I sang along to “Beat It” when Tamika Catchings fouled out, and I high-fived everyone around me when Taurasi’s monster rebounding sealed the game in overtime. I wasn’t an employee, reporter, or even a casual observer. I was a fanatic.

I can’t wait till I get to feel that again. What are you doing on Thursday?