The Last Word with Lang Whitaker - Missing Something Special - Dec. 3, 2009

Lang Whitaker is many things - executive editor of Slam Magazine, a contributor for NBA TV, a book author, and most importantly, a die-hard Hawks fan. After starting 2-for-2 in pushing the Hawks into the postseason, he's back for his third season in 2009-10 to share his thoughts on the team exclusively for Hawks.com. Check back every Thursday throughout the season to read his latest musings, and read him every day at www.SLAMonline.com

"If You're Note There, You're Missing Something Special"
by Lang Whitaker

During last night's Hawks/Raptors game and saw something I've seen a lot of the last few years: empty seats in Philips Arena.

Now, I am not here to make fun of Atlanta sports fans. You may not realize this, Hawks fans, but I've had your back for a while now. I've patiently explained to media members who are not from the South that being a sports fan in the South, particularly in Atlanta, is a unique experience.

People from media capitals like New York and Los Angeles have no idea of the popularity of college football down South. Heck, high school football in Georgia might be more popular than college football is up here in New York. I've been to soccer matches all over Europe, and I always tell people that the only thing I can compare that experience to is going to a college football game in the South. And enjoying that experience takes time and money.

One of the laziest generalizations by sports writers is when we say Atlanta has the worst sports fans in America, because it's just not true. Atlanta has passionate, knowledgeable sports fans. Yes, the Braves have had some empty seats at playoff games, but then, what other cities have seen their baseball team in the postseason 14 times in a row and still always get stuck playing day games? And lately the Falcons have been good, the Thrashers are in season, there's UGA and GT football and hoops, there's NASCAR, the Atlanta Dream...basically, there are plenty of sports-entertainment options in The A.

But here's the thing: None of those teams are as good as the Hawks are.

As much as I love the Hawks and the NBA, even I can understand why some fans would have saved their money some nights the last few years. The Hawks were in a state of flux. Casual cinema fans don't pay money to look at a movie as it's being made, and tourists don't pay to ride to the top of a building while it's under construction. But once you build it, they will come, or at least they're supposed to come.

I don't have any numbers to back this up, but I suspect teams (not just NBA teams) have seen attendance drop because of the advent of HD television, because the picture is amazing and you don't have to leave the couch. But being in Philips Arena when Josh Smith dunks on someone, when Ryan Cameron yells, "That foul is offensive...Dwight Howard!" or when Joe Johnson drains a three, and then high-fiving complete strangers sitting around you is a heady, electric feeling.

I understand that there are a lot of options for what you can do with your income in Atlanta. I understand that we're in the midst of a terrible economy. But I also understand that right now the Hawks are 8-1 in The Highlight Factory and are playing the best basketball they've played in a decade.

And if you're not there, you're missing something special.

MAILING IT IN...
This week, reader Jason writes...
Hey Lang, I want to get your opinion on Marvin Williams so far. Obviously, he hasn't had the year that many people were expecting out of him, and it's partly due to the successes of Smoove and Al and the emergence of Creezy, but even when Marv has been called upon, he hasn't shot the ball well. I've noticed in the last week or two, Marvin has been constantly trying to take his man one on one while there was still ample time on the shot clock. Last time I checked, the Hawks have a handful of players I would rather see going one on one than Williams. I'm afraid Marvin is trying to force his scoring since his numbers aren't where he wants them to be, and this is potentially hurting our offense. Do you agree?

Yes and no, Jason. You're dead on about Marv's numbers being down because the guys around him have improved, especially Al and Josh in the post. Last season, Marv got a lot of touches when the ball went into the post and then came back out to him. This year, it's stayed in the post and the Hawks are taking less perimeter shots, which is a good thing. Truth is, it's harder to be a complementary player than it is to be the main man, and Marvin is constantly trying to toe the fine line between being assertive and fitting in. It takes time; don't forget Marvin is still just 23 years old. I have no doubt he'll figure it out.

Lang Whitaker is the executive editor of SLAM magazine and writes throughout the week at SLAMonline.com. Also, catch Lang every Tuesday night at 6:00 p.m. on NBA TV's "The Beat." He can be reached at lang@harris-pub.com.