This is the first thing I'm writing since the start of the playoffs, and even now I am writing more as a fan than an analyst, journalist, or anything else someone might mistake me for. As soon as we were matched up with the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, I decided to throw rationality out of the window and go into the series as purely a fan of the team. I knew that almost everyone did not expect much out of this team, with the most optimistic outlooks only calling for a "gentleman's sweep" in favor of the defending champs. Even in our own Writer's Roundtable, not one of us mentioned the possibility of winning the series.
Going into a game with no expectations can make it that much more enjoyable when the unexpected occurs. I was with a good amount of fellow Hornets die-hards to witness the Hornets shock the basketball world and steal Game 1 form the Lakers. Even better, we saw a return to the Chris Paul who dominated the playoffs in 07-08. This was the player who had turned many of us into Hornets fans a few years ago, snapping right back into the national discussion. In the last four games, we have seen a team, who no one expected to win a game, take two from the two-time defending champs. We've seen a player, who many had written off as permanently damaged goods, emerge as the best player in the series and maybe in the playoffs thus far.
On a local level, I've seen interest increase exponentially for this team of overachievers and their fearless leader. This city has a particular thing for underdogs, and as far as bandwagon fans go, there might not be any better in the whole country. It may have been tough to get people to consistently show up in the first place, but once they are in the building, there may not be a rowdier bunch. No fan directions are needed in this town. Yesterday on local radio, I heard Marc Spears from Yahoo! say that while people say the playoff series in Oklahoma City was loud, Game 4 in NOLA was definitely louder. I was there, and from someone who has been in the Superdome and Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge for some pretty big games, the New Orleans Arena was LOUD. It was 18,000 fans coming together to show support for a team that they had all come to identify with. Facing a team with perhaps the most widespread fan base in the NBA, there was rarely any audible evidence of people cheering for the visitors. That game was epic. That experience was special, and it's something I won't soon forget.
My advice to you is to go into this game with no expectations except watching a basketball game. A game played at its highest level with a few of its best players. Try not to envision a dramatic upset or a humbling defeat. My goal for this game is simply to enjoy it. Seeing what the people of Sacramento have gone through this year has really affected me. Knowing that the NBA ownership of the Hornets could result in a similar situation for my team has been in the back of my mind all year. Watching what was, at the time, considered to be the final game in Sacramento really hit home in ways I did not expect. I can't imagine that feeling, and hope that I never have to. For the time being, I will try to enjoy every second of Hornets basketball that this season has to offer, whether it be 48 minutes or another month. I will not think about free agents, or lockouts, or ownership groups. I will concentrate all my mind on cheering for a team that "came from nowhere," according to Reggie Miller, led by an all-world talent, going up against the New York Yankees of the basketball world.
If you are lucky enough to be attending the game tonight, I ask that you join me as being loud as possible and giving this team the support that they deserve. If you will be watching at home or elsewhere, keep in mind what this team has accomplished and appreciate a playoff performance for the history books. This year's playoffs have made me realize three things about myself:
There is no sport I'd rather be following than the NBA.
There is no team I'd rather support than the Hornets.
There is no player on the planet I'd rather watch than Chris Paul.