They're the pariah of fandom — those who dare to cheer the visiting team despite the otherwise unanimous roar of support for the hometown boys.
But the handful of Miami Heat fans who dared to show their colors for opening night of the NBA Finals said when it comes to Oklahoma City Thunder fans, courtesy matches enthusiasm.
In fact, wearing LeBron James T-shirts together — one black, one maroon — at Bricktown restaurants and bars before and after Tuesday's game, as well as inside the arena, brought nothing but positive attention to Robert Gasso and Don Pingaro, two season-ticket holders from Miami.
“You see on TV the OKC fans that are just super enthusiastic, and you think, ‘Am I going to come out of there alive?' But I'm telling you, I did not receive one harsh word in that stadium,” Gasso said. “Even leaving the stadium, when all you guys were screaming ‘OKC, OKC!' I didn't have one person point a finger at me, say anything bad. I was in shock.”
Surrounded by a sea of blue and white, Gasso and Pingaro easily stuck out Tuesday from their perch in Loud City.
The two work in real estate, and during their college days at University of Miami, they traveled to away games regularly. Game 1 at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Gasso said, was unlike any sports event they have experienced. In fact, they will likely sell their Row 10 tickets to next week's games in Miami to cover the costs of watching live in Oklahoma City again Thursday night, he said.
Gasso said what he heard about Thunder fans was true: You might as well add them to the team roster.
“It's unbelievable; there's a tremendous home court advantage like I've never seen,” he said. “I mean the Heat fans, they're very enthusiastic about their team and they pack the arena, but the noise decibel level (inside Chesapeake) is pretty insane.”
Gasso's was an experience shared by many other Heat fans, both local and from afar, on Tuesday.
“Little jokes here and there, but they've been great,” said Gus Perez, who was wearing a red T-shirt with “Spo Knows” — a reference to Miami coach Erik Spoelstra — and standing in line for a hot dog on the third-level concourse.
It was halftime and the Heat was still ahead, but Perez, also from Miami, said he was making friends with his enemies in blue.
“Amazing crowd, amazing fans as advertised. But a lot of sad people tonight going home,” he said.
A smile gripped his face after a woman in line piped in — “Whatever!”
Perez and everyone else in line laughed as he backed away to the condiment counter.
“I'm just kidding,” he told the woman, holding up his hands. “Having a good time, having a good time.”
Ron Book, just a few rows up from courtside behind the Heat bench on Tuesday, also in red, said he, too, could verify there is something special about Thunder fans and the 'Peake. Book, a season-ticket holder from Miami, said he followed the Heat through its entire playoff run.
“They got here early, they were a good crowd outside before the game — it's an impressive crowd and they're a very respectful crowd,” Book said. “A much better crowd than we found in New York, in Indiana and in Boston.”
Another James jersey wearer, Drew Wolford, who drove in from Missouri with his girlfriend, Danielle Burns, reported the same.
“Even all the Thunder fans are giving me a high five, wanting it to be a good series,” he said. “I've only had one person flip me off.”
It's more than Thunder fans, though, that are rubbing off on Heat fans from Miami and elsewhere.
Stephen Pilkington of Jenks said he was impressed by the arena and surrounding renovations in downtown Oklahoma City. He said he's been a LeBron James fan since before Oklahoma had a professional basketball team — “I'm not trying to flip-flop,” he said — but that he does take some pride in what he witnessed Tuesday.
“You can tell that the fans here from Oklahoma City really love their team, and I can appreciate that as a Heat fan,” Pilkington said. “It's nice to see the environment they put forth and all the money the city is willing to pour into the team.”
Gasso said his positive Oklahoma experience extended beyond the game. Visits to the bombing memorial both after the game and again on Wednesday and then to the University of Oklahoma campus reminded him of the region's history and its soul.
“OU is famous for their football and their sports, and we've had so many spirited matches between OU and Miami back in the day,” he said. “That's just the kind of things we like to do. But now we're exhausted, so right now we're just going to take a power nap, just hang out and get ready for Thursday.”