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Atlanta needs crazy sports fans



I'd heard that Atlanta was not a great sports town. So far, Atlantans, you've proven that's true.

Some of you are proud of this. In fact, elsewhere in this issue, the editorial "we" praises the fact that the city cares more about grown-up things rather than praying at the altar of sports.

Okay. I get it. You've obviously made a grown-up choice. I'm also saying, you're missing out.

In protest, some would cite Atlanta's spirited support of the Falcons. I grant there is indeed a buzz about town on game day, and the Falcons sell nearly 98 percent of their tickets. But it's pretty easy for just about any large-sized municipality to sell out eight pro football games a year, and the Falcons rank only 17th in NFL paid attendance.

What about baseball? The Braves are America's team, but apparently not Atlanta's. Even though they're still a top National League power, they only sell about 60 percent of their available tickets during the year, good for 20th out of 30 teams. I remember riding MARTA a few hours before the season's final game, and even the Braves fans headed to the game seemed blasé. No singing, no chanting, no tailgating (I'm guessing), none of the rowdy game-day behavior you see in other sports towns.

That's okay, because to me the real test as to whether a city is a quality sports town is its attachment to (or disinterest in) its NBA team. (Why? My column, my rules.) Atlanta fares no better here. The Hawks are a young, up-and-coming team sidelined by the league's ongoing lockout, but few are disturbed by this. (In Dallas, my old hometown, they're going nuts.) I shouldn't be surprised. As with the Braves, the Hawks finished 20th out of 30 teams last year in percentage of tickets sold, behind freaking Toronto.

"The problem isn't that it's a bad sports town, it's that it's a bad pro sports town," says John Hollinger, an basketball writer and analyst who lives in Atlanta. "This place is batshit crazy over college sports, especially SEC football, and that drains the pool of interest for the other sports. The Hawks' — and the NHL's Thrashers, who just moved to Winnipeg — lack of support is exacerbated by the sprawl and traffic. Nobody really wants to drive downtown on a Friday night."

Fine, you're a college sports town with bad traffic. But, coming from a town that just won an NBA championship (#humblebrag), I think you're missing something. There's a communal joy to rooting for a pro team that binds a city. The years spent gathering and rooting in vain pays off when your team finally wins it all. You feel closer to everyone, regardless of race, color or creed. You act like children. And because you've always been a passionate fan base, you don't feel like a carpetbagger who just flew in for the victory party.

Maybe that's too daunting a task. Start small, then. The WNBA season starts in just six months.

Eric Celeste is CL's Editor in Chief.

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