Last night, the Atlanta Hawks put on an incredible performance against the Chicago Bulls to even their second round series at two game apiece. They played aggressive, moved the ball well and played with energy – all of which have not always been the case for the team this year. Atlanta seems to be the ultimate light switch team – they show up sometimes and completely disappear at others – but their talent should allow them to be one of the best teams in the NBA.
With Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Jamal Crawford, and a deep bench, the Hawks play to their potential almost as often as they play disinterested. And not knowing which Hawks team will show up, they have been one of the most interesting teams to watch in the past few years. This bipolar identity makes the Hawks the perfect team for the city of Atlanta.
Atlanta has never been in the conversation for best sports town because despite having four pro teams, the support isn’t what one would expect from one of America’s largest and most dynamic cities. When the Atlanta Braves won 13-straight division titles, playoff sellouts were still not a given at Turner Field. The Atlanta Falcons have had attendance problems until recently when the franchise has been revived behind the play of Matt Ryan. The Atlanta Thrashers are losing a lot of money and have made only one playoff appearance in their history. The combination of a lack of support and losing money has the team’s ownership group, the Atlanta Spirit LLC, looking for new investors. The Hawks face the same problem with their fans.
Since taking the Celtics to seven games in 2008, the Hawks have been one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. While the franchise has drawn more fans than it did previously, the Hawks still ranked 22nd in the NBA in attendance this year, not exactly the ranking you’d expect for a team as good and exciting (at times) as them. Additionally, since Atlanta is home to a lot of northern transplants, when the Celtics, Knicks or Bulls come to town, Philips Arena will often be divided 50-50 between fans of the Hawks and those teams. The inconsistent fan support changes in the playoffs though when Phillips Arena becomes one of the loudest arenas in the NBA.
During the playoffs, Hawk fans have rallied and come out in force for their team. They wear their white shirts and wave their towels. They shout, they motivate, but most of all they are there. One might say, well it’s the playoffs, every fan base does that. That might be true, but for a team that hasn’t realized their full potential yet, having fans fill up “The Highlight Factory” makes a big difference.
The TNT announcers made a great point last night that the Hawks have a lot of athleticism, but that having athleticism gets confused with playing with energy – something the Hawks don’t always do. However, they played with a ton of energy last night, attacking the rim in a way not seen often enough from this team. Guys like Smith and Zaza Pachulia feed off doing things that put the crowd into a frenzy, whether it be a ridiculous dunk or a headbutt. And when the crowd gets going, the players get noticeably juiced.
So while the Hawks don’t always play to their potential, they epitomize Atlanta as a sports town. Both can be inconsistent – one in their play, the other in their support – but when both are at their best, they make for a pretty lethal combo.
What do you think?
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