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Ball Don't Lie

Take your kids to see an NBA game in person; it is affordable and very much worth the price

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This seat cost four bucks

Up until this week, the biggest NBA fan you know had never bought an NBA ticket.

I’ve had League Pass since 2000, and have watched endless amounts of games through the years. I’ve written about the NBA since 1997 online, during off hours in high school and college, and then on to working double shifts in my early 20s bartending and then rising at the crack of don’t-even-ask to write for various sites you probably don’t remember. Since the year 2000, from those fledgling sites to SI.com to Ball Don’t Lie in 2007, I’ve had the distinct privilege of being afforded a press pass to see and write about games whenever I ask. I’ve been to games before in the seats — a couple of parent-purchased excursions in my youth, and Roto Arcade’s Andy Behrens was kind enough to gift me a ticket a few years back — but never on my own dime.

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Mainly because, living with a wife and two kids for the last seven years on a sportswriter’s salary, every dime counts. Other factors go into this — I don’t want to spend my off hours living a busman’s holiday at an NBA game. My two daughters and wife are not sports fans (to say nothing of the fact that they see Kelly in front of a laptop all day writing about basketball, with the living room rarely tuned away from basketball games each weeknight), plus we live two hours away from where my beloved Chicago Bulls play, and an hour away from where the Indiana Pacers play.

The Pacers are one of the best teams in the NBA this season, and though the team’s attendance has improved along with their play, it has only jumped up from 29th out of 30 teams to 27th. Were I not an NBA freak who is afforded free press passes by the team, I would fall into the sort of typical category that is ignoring the Pacers to stay home and watch games for free on TV — local guy, fan of all sports, father of two. So how much of an investment is it, for this dad who freezes homemade soup and clips coupons while turning down the thermostat when the kids and wife leave the house, to go see a game live with the whole fam-damnly?

It wasn’t all that bad, as it turns out.

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As mentioned, I’ve never clicked on a ticket broker’s website or used StubHub before. I’ve taken my kids to many other sporting events — high school football games, motorsports, minor league baseball and hockey contests — but those tickets are so cheap that I just go straight through the various official websites or buy at the box office.

After perhaps 10 minutes worth of clicking on Sunday, though, I was able to find four seats for Wednesday’s Pacers/Minnesota Timberwolves (“Ricky Rubio!,” says Dad the League Pass Dork) for less than $18. In the highest section, to be sure, but I was also mindful of the fact that the Pacers recently installed a massive high-definition scoreboard. Just in case the 10-year old-wanted to see if Derrick Williams closed out properly on the replay.

From there, the planning. Wednesday night is a school night (that phrase, as an ex-kid, still gives me the creeps) so Tuesday night meant a far earlier bedtime. There’s no way in hell I’m feeding my kids concession fare for dinner, much less spending huge gobs of money on it, so stir-fry chicken was made the day before — ready to quickly reheat after I got off from work and before we got on the road. And because you’ve accurately guessed that this pedantic jerk is a hypermiler in his four-banger, the cruise control was aggressively utilized in order to save gas money.

Once we got to Indianapolis’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse? Bliss. I’m not a Pacers fan and the team doesn’t know I’m writing this column, but the “whoa!” you get from each kid as they make their way toward the court is worth every penny. It’s not just the massive scoreboard, but the lights and speaker setup and gleam of the court and the whole bloody spectacle. And again, this is a “whoa” from two kids that see nothing but basketball games on in the living room from October until June.

(They have their own TV in their room. I’m not a jerk dad.)

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The seats were way up. Way, way up. To the kids, though, this doesn’t matter. And to my wife, who could watch the game on the screen, this doesn’t matter. And to the NBA nerd, always in love with watching the action from above (when given press passes I prefer the second tier to courtside), I was back at my work station. Even though I had to ignore emails and Twitter so as to (very) happily answer 2 1/2 hours’ worth of questions from the kids about what that was and what that meant and “is it OK if I dance?”

We can’t get our (very well-behaved) children to sit through a 3-D movie in a theatre without getting bored and asking what we’re having for dinner. They’re kids, and they’ll get restless; and yet at no point did the stimulation and entertainment at this game cease. All the things (contests, fan interaction) I roll my eyes at while attempting to write during timeouts at press row kept their attention. Trips out to the concourse between quarters and halves felt like cool trips to dad’s personal basketball mall, as my youngest daughter gawked at a vintage shoe display stuck up in the top concourse. All the songs that dad has no idea about — your Ganghams and your Brunos and your whatevers — were grooved to.

It was so, so worth it — and especially (possibly preferably, though the t-shirt cannon didn’t have enough juice to make it our way) from that vantage point. We had to squint harder at a gymnastics meet earlier in the week to see the younger daughter perform. These seats were cheaper, seriously, and better.

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This man, and these banners, are worth seeing in person (Getty Images)

The total price, and this is without exaggeration, came in a few cents under $110. That’s a chunk of change — that’s something we have to plan around, and something we have to account for as a year-long expense. Mom and dad won’t be seeing Steely Dan this summer, but that’s fine.

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Just under $18 for the four tickets. The gas, parking ($15; and I probably could have found cheaper parking had we not been rushing to the game) and two foam fingers for the kids went into that final tally. Concessions included two beers apiece for mom and dad (a beer at a live NBA game; that was a new and very fun experience), two sodas apiece, and one giant tub of popcorn that came with free refills. My oldest daughter got to put a dollar in a tenor saxophone player’s busker bucket as we left the stadium.

And if mom and dad had cut back on those $7.25 beers, maybe just one per game instead of one per half, it would have been even cheaper. In the end, though, we were covered in salt and butter, with sugary pop and malted hops in our various systems, and more than happy at a (oh, yeah, the game) Pacer win over the Timberwolves that saw two of Kelly’s favorite players in Roy Hibbert and Ricky Rubio play excellent ball. And I got to yell at Violet Palmer, without press row scorn!

The kids were already up past their bedtime, so we let them linger and take pictures for a half-hour after the game ended. Even with that, and the hour-long ride home, everyone was still in bed a little after 11 at night. They did just fine waking up the next morning. For $110, I can’t think of a better way to make my crew happier. Pony rides don’t even come this cheap.

Which takes me back to the original point. It’s worth it, as a parent or individual or fair-weather fan, to take in the live NBA experience. I’m not a shill, I don’t work for the league, I don’t care for its owners, and I’m not even a Pacers fan. I’m also mindful of the fact that, after $110, the whole crew won’t be going out to dinner for a while.

I got my hoops fix in, watching one of the NBA’s better teams take down one of the NBA’s more entertaining crews. For the three members of my family that don’t know who Orlando Johnson is, though? It was an absolute blast. You can go to Pacer games, Indiana, and come out of the stadium without having to wear a barrel and suspenders. Give it a shot.

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