At some point last week, an account titled “#StopThePizza” started following me on Twitter, and though I don’t block all that many non-spam accounts, I felt like swiftly blocking the minds behind that title almost out of principle. Stop the pizza? What kind of godless, heathen monster would want to suggest such a thing?
It turns out the account isn’t really devoted to stopping the creation and consumption of the Greatest Food Ever full stop, in actuality the account was designed to encourage the Toronto Raptors to dump a campaign that gifts fans a small personal sized pizza from a local chain to ticket holding fans should the home team top 100 points in a win. The promotion has been around for years, as have similar NBA promotions throughout several of its home arenas, but the exercise often encourages ill will from fans to players that the players absolutely do not deserve.
Especially if the players commit the pizza-killing crime of scoring less than 100 points, which some vocal lame-brain fans often prefer to a win. From the organization’s petition, pitched in order to stop the embarrassment:
class="MsoNormal">The Toronto Raptors are Canada's team. They deserve respect and admiration when they win games, regardless of how many points they score. Booing a winning team on their home court is unacceptable.
Without caveat or excuse, it is unacceptable. And there’s a reason why the “boo” works so expertly, it’s because a few stray instances of booing can nearly overwhelm a 20,000-strong crowd that otherwise is heartily cheering or somewhat silently supporting the team that has worked to a winning end in front of them. Boos make noise, and they stand out. And while the paying customer is well within his or her right to boo a team that is underperforming in relation to reasonable expectations, there is absolutely no reason for a patron (who likely paid a huge chunk of change for their ticket) to complain about missing out on a small bit of free fast food.
Even if pizza is, as we all know, the best.
If this comes off as hand-wringing, good. This situation isn’t exactly ubiquitous, it’s not an epidemic, but Toronto’s situation is not unique. Some Chicago fans have infamously booed a roster that over the years as acted as the NBA’s Great Plucky Overachiever when the Bulls (who have been a miserable offensive team for most years dating back to the 1990s) failed to hit 100 points in a win, securing the punters a free fast food cheeseburger. Former Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins once offered to buy the entire Philly crowd a round of burgers if they would just find a way to pipe down and not boo his players for rubbing things in and shooting for the century mark, and subsequent free food.
Players play to a score, but they don’t play to a total. They know when they’re up 12 or down five or when the game is tied, but they’re not paying attention to the actual raw numbers at hand. To boo a player for not knowing the difference between 99 and 100 when all they know is that they’re plus 12 in the point differential is ridiculous. And it speaks to the fair weather and pathetic nature of the fans doing the booing, because they didn’t earn free carbs.
Oh, wait. We get it now.
This is who the NBA, and these teams, have to court in order to keep the arenas full and the income flowing. The fans who know about Amir Johnson’s ability to set sound screens, the ones that know why Acie Earl’s 40-point game was so hilarious, they understand the sport and the stakes and while they may covet pizza more than most, they’re not going to publically shame a point guard for not firing a three-pointer in the waning seconds of a contest just to get a free version of something that probably costs one-third of what that night’s parking lot ticket costs.
So, yes, we’re winging and whining about a few fans acting like louts, but it truly is time to come up with another way to create some late-game intrigue. The Washington Wizards run a promotion that wins fans a free chicken sandwich from a local fast food chain if an opposing player misses free throws in a selected fourth quarter of a contest, giving fans a further incentive to boo lustily as the Bad Guys line one up from the charity stripe. Other teams utilize defensive hallmarks as a way to win the fans some free food.
Toronto, Chicago and Philadelphia (amongst many other teams, unfortunately) put the onus on the home team to score a certain number of points, which may not fit into either sound basketball philosophy, or tactful sportsmanship strategy. Whether it’s in the course of a tough 99-98 contest, or in the latter stages of a 99-71 blowout, it’s not part of the game, and it’s not helping anyone.
Save for the sponsors, who aren’t conflicted in the slightest in giving away free food that costs them next to nothing to make, and the NBA team’s particular promotional department, one that has to keep the gimmicks flowing in order to justify its creation.
This is why this stuff isn’t going anywhere, and no amount of humorless columns from wonks like me will be able to change it. These teams aren’t shooting to make fans out of the people that fill up and/or read NBA blogs, and they’re not looking to convert patrons out of those that put together Twitter accounts bent on making a change.
They’re after your pal Tyler, the one who still thinks the Raptors should never have traded Chris Bosh, the one that is looking at his phone during the Raps’ deciding 12-2 run, and the one that probably won’t bother to redeem his free pizza coupon anyway.