Breaking! The Atlanta Hawks are in the playoffs again — or were as of this writing — for the fourth consecutive year. Let me back up: The Hawks are a basketball team. A pretty good one, recently. The past three seasons, the team has advanced to the second round of the National Basketball Association's "playoffs." (It's like March Madness, if you've heard of that, but about twice as long and half as exciting.) Championships are the professed goal of NBA basketball teams, and Hawks ownership hasn't quite built a club that can win one. But this playoff run is noteworthy: Only the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers have also made it to the second round the past three years.
I sense that you're something entirely different than shocked: You don't care.
The Hawks have won a championship (all right, it was back in 1958, when the team was based in St. Louis) and had some exciting players (Dominique Wilkens, Spud Webb, Josh Smith ... Isaiah Rider, on and off the court). Yet they have the worst fans of any competent NBA team.
Sure, until recently the Hawks have been ugly: A team investor, Rutherford Seydel, told me "the '90s were unbearable." I've been watching with one eye closed since I was a masochistic 10-year-old, through the (futile) Weiss, (feckless) Wilkens, (infecund) Kruger, (abortive) Stotts, and (goateed) Woodson days. But the Hawks aren't the truly awful Charlotte Bobcats; they're enjoyable, even supportable now. Yet I've failed, over the past few years, to find a single viable Hawks fan club in Atlanta — or online, where you're supposed to be able to find everything.
Some history: In late 2009, I left New Mexico, where I'd been living and paying around $200 a year to get every Hawks game on my TV in Santa Fe. Back in Atlanta, trolling the Web for Hawks fans, I came across a posting for a new club and sent an email. Someone called "Bee Moe" quickly wrote back: "Hey," he said, "you would be the first. Let's see what kind of response we get. I will follow up." Two years and numerous virtual nudges later, no word from Bee Moe.
I probed the Internet even deeper. What I found was disturbing — Neuticles.com, Meet-An-Inmate.com, and something called MySpace.com — but the Hawks stuff was sadder. The Web is littered with dead or dying Hawks fan clubs: The last post on Fanpop.com's Hawks page, written more than a year ago, says "this club needs more fans lol"; MingleCity.com's group hasn't had a new post since April of 2009; and SportsTwo.com's page hasn't had an update since 2006! I did find an active group with 2,000 members at Hawksquawk.net, but that's still relatively tiny. You can fit that many yawning fans in the Braves' infield.
I'm not saying I did exhaustive research, OK. But should you really have to shake the peach trees of a major American city to find a living, breathing fan club for its pro basketball team? Should you have to grovel to Bee Moe? Surely I could find a bar, at least, where games are rigorously watched. I asked around.
Bret LaGree is a playwright and basketball obsessive who runs an excellent Hawks blog called Hoopinion. Recently, I asked LaGree where he watched games: "At home," he said. "Simply getting a Hawks game on a TV" in a bar in East Atlanta, where he lives, "can be an effort." The CNN Center's Taco Mac, he thought, was the best bet. But it's basically attached to the court.
I draw a line at joining an "official" Hawks fan club underwritten by the organization itself. There's no soul in being a bribed fan. It's supposed to cost something: sweat, tears, money, relationships, blood. So I'm defiantly not a Hawks "Kia 6th Man," one of the zealous shills cheering in one section, having responded YES! to a website unironically asking, "Do you think you have what it takes to be a part of the MADNESS?" With apologies to Groucho Marx: "I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like that for a member."