My ticket rep tells me that I have the best seat for the money inside the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, or perhaps any NBA arena, for that matter. It’s a single seat in the first row of a section in the corner of the arena, right behind a basket and next to the Pelicans’ bench. No one sits directly in front of me or on either side of me. Formerly, I had two season tickets in another section, but that was when the Pelicans were the Hornets and the team sucked all of the balls and it was like pulling teeth to get friends to come to a game with me.
So a couple of years ago I told said ticket rep that I just wanted a single seat, the best he could find me for the money, as I was fine just going to the games solo. I asked specifically about this seat and the others like it situated in the arena’s other three corners, where the sections are shaped similar to pizza slices and culminate to a single-seat point at the bottom. His response was something along the lines of, “Those seats never come available.” As luck would have it, about a week later he called me with good news.
“Well, looks like you might get lucky,” he said. “One of those seats just came available, the one by the home team’s bench, specifically. Do you want it?”
I snatched it up and doubt I’ll ever let it go. Even if I one day decide to go back to having multiple seats all together I think I’d like to still hold on to this one. I can easily sell the tickets for it on the resale market or dole them out to friends occasionally. I think I pay a little over $2400 for the seat for a season. About 10 feet in front of me are two rows of courtside seats. I’ve been told that season tickets for those seats run $18k-24k each. So to sit just a few feet back from the court but still have a front row seat I save at least $16,000 annually. I’ll take it.
Here’s a screengrab of Smoothie King Center 3-D seating chart. That blue seat you see in the bottom middle is mine…
My point in telling you all of this is to illustrate how I literally have a front row seat for everything that happens during Pelicans games at the Smoothie King Center, including what went down on Thursday night, when the Steph Curry experience was anything but “fun as hell” for myself and other Pels fans.
For most of the game, however, the night was magical for Pelicans fans. After overcoming an early sprint out of the gate by the Warriors, the Pels took control of the game and everything was grand. The Pels played their asses off and their hearts out. Trombone Shorty performed at halftime. The crowd was loud and electric. The fried shrimp were off the chain.
Going into the 4th quarter, the Pels had a 20-point lead and seemed in command of the game, so much so that the impossibly loud African-American Pelicans superfan named Tiffany who sits directly behind me felt comfortable enough to leave her seat in the middle of the 3rd quarter to grab a drink with Rob Ryan’s wife. I took a video of the raucous scene all around me with my phone just as the 4th quarter was about to start. You’ll notice Drew Brees being interviewed by Fox Sports sideline reporter Jen Hale a few feet away (Brees, Mark Ingram and CJ Spiller were all sitting in the aforementioned courtside seats a few feet in front of me) while virtually the entire arena stood, danced and sang “Stand Up and Get Crunk.” Again, everything was grand.
Still, something felt amiss to me. Maybe it was just the knowledge that a young team — helmed by a young coach — with a penchant for late game f*ckery was facing the best team in the league, a team that can score points in bunches. But “we got this” was not something I ever remember thinking with absolute certainty, even though a 20 point 4th quarter lead usually translates to victory (the Warriors were previously 0-358 in their history when trailing by 20 or more going into the 4th quarter of games) for NBA teams. I mean, I was pretty sure we would hold on to win, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure.
That said, I can recall the exact moment when I knew the Pelicans were actually going to lose to the Warriors. It was when Anthony Davis stepped up to the free throw line and missed the first of two free throws with 9.6 seconds left in regulation and the Pels up 107-105. He would go on to make the second, putting them up 108-105, but missing that first one — thereby affording Golden State an opportunity to tie the game with a 3-pointer — was what opened the door for the disastrous and absurd chain of events that were to come. You just knew that someone, likely human basketball freak Steph Curry, would hit a ridiculous three to send the game into overtime, and Curry did just that (with Davis in his face, no less).
Sure, there were many moments prior to this point where my confidence — and the confidence of the other 18,000 or so in the arena — wavered, but at no point prior to this did that confidence actually break. All those offensive rebounds the Pels gave up on the defensive end in the 4th didn’t do it. All of the panic and confusion on the offensive end in the last few minutes of the game didn’t do it either. This is where I finally broke. Watching our superstar miss the first of two clutch free throws that would have probably iced the game is when I knew that the total meltdown I, and many others, feared would happen was going to actually happen. It was then that I composed the following tweet…
At the risk of sounding callous, I imagine that any time a plane falls from the sky there’s a considerable bit of time in which the passengers on board don’t think the plane’s actually going to crash, either out of ferocious optimism or an inability to believe what’s happening is actually happening — they simply can’t wrap their brains around it — but I imagine there comes a point when everyone finally collectively goes, “Oh sh*t…this plane I’m trapped inside of is actually going to crash.” Anthony Davis missing that free throw was that moment for me, and I suspect it was for many others watching inside the arena as well.
When the Warriors inbounded the ball with 9.6 seconds to go, I remember feeling very little, as I was already resigned to accept what I believed fate had in store for us — which was that Golden State would tie the game and send it to overtime and eventually win. Of course, Curry would miss the first shot and a mildly mad rebound scramble would ensue, leading to Curry heaving an impossible shot from the corner of the court that would hit nothing but the bottom of the net. Of course that’s how it would play out. The basketball Gods had written a script, one that didn’t include a happy ending for us. Here is a text exchange I had with a friend sitting in another section in the waning moments of regulation…
When the overtime ensued, there was no part of me that believed for a second we had a chance to win the game, and I’m pretty sure every other Pelicans fan in the arena felt the same way. Yet, the vast majority of us stuck around, probably because we were in awe of what we were seeing or we just couldn’t look away or we were too paralyzed by WTF?! to move. Or a combination of all of those things.
I’ve been trying to determine if this is the most devastating defeat of a team I love that I’ve witnessed in person. It’s a tough call because I’m a fan of New Orleans Saints, a franchise that was spectacularly awful for decades before it recently became good, and an LSU football team coached by Les Miles, a man with a special talent for blowing a game in dramatic fashion. But I really think this one may top any disappointing sports moment I’ve previously experienced in person. It was downright jolting and wholly surreal.
Certainly, the overwhelming sense of pending doom present on Thursday night in the Smoothie King Center was more palpable than anything I can ever remember experiencing. Hell, even the normally effervescent members of the Pelicans dance team who were stationed in front of me looked traumatized. There’s one of them who’s always smiling and her smile is one of the biggest, brightest, and most beautiful I’ve ever seen — this one — and even she bore the look of a woman who knew that her boyfriend was about to tell her he was breaking up with her. This is the smile she normally flashes throughout each game…
This is the closest thing to a smile I saw on her face in the waning minutes of the game. No pearly whites to be seen…
There’s no way I can see the Pelicans recovering from what happened on Thursday night. I’d be shocked if they lose game four by less than 20, much less win the game. And let’s face it, there’s no way in hell they’re coming back to win the series. NBA teams up 3-0 are 110-0 in seven-game series over the course of NBA history, and this Warriors team certainly isn’t losing four in a row to this Pelicans team. Our season is effectively over.
Still, I love this team and for that reason I’ll be in the arena on Saturday night to see the floppin’-ass floppers popularly known as the Golden State Warriors likely put our 2014-15 season to bed. Even though I expect the Pels to lose, I’m sure I’ll still be entertained. Ultimately, being entertained is what it’s all about, right? And what an entertaining season it’s been. I feel fortunate to have had a front row seat for it all, even when I left the building with a broken heart.