Hey, Thunder fans, Big John Sudbury has something to say to you about your pending passage into the playoffs. Now, you may not know who Big John is, but the man who looks just like you’d expect someone nicknamed Big John to look knows his stuff. You see, he’s been a Utah Jazz fan since the franchise moved to Salt Lake City from New Orleans. He’s owned season tickets since the team was playing at the Salt Palace. He’s occupied the same front-row, mid-court seat for more than 30 years.
Big John was there when the team was terrible in the beginning and when the Utah fans cheered it anyway. He was there, too, when the Jazz made the NBA playoffs for the first time in 1984. Jazz star Adrian Dantley led the league in scoring, and Frank Layden won Coach of the Year honors. (Hmm, doesn’t that story line sound vaguely familiar?) The excitement had been high, and the vibe had been strong throughout the season, so Big John expected the playoffs to be more of the same. It wasn’t. "The fans of Oklahoma City ... are going to find out that it’s a whole new basketball game,” he said. "It’s going to bring just a different thrill. "It all changes.” Jazz fans met the challenge, building on their already-strong track record and becoming known as one of the best playoff crowds in the NBA. What will Thunder fans do? Oklahoma City is already known for its good crowds with everyone standing until the team scores its first point, super fans dressing up in wild costumes and the place having the excited energy of a college arena. But with the Thunder set to start its first post-season series since coming to town, this will be the city’s first taste of playoff basketball. And whether you’re talking about players or coaches or crowds, the playoffs are when reputations are built. "I’ve heard time and time again that place is a tough place to play,” Yahoo! Sports NBA writer Marc Spears said of the Ford Center. "The fact that the playoffs are coming there for the first time, I expect it to be multiplied by a hundred.” Talk about expectations. But hey, Thunder fans, it’s not like you have to go out and defend Kobe Bryant or shoot over Pau Gasol or put up with Ron Artest. That’s not your job. That’s not your role. What is? "Constant noise,” FanHouse senior NBA writer Chris Tomasson said. "Not just getting loud when things are going well. Getting rowdy when the team is down.” There are crowds that do that extremely well. Portland. Cleveland. Golden State. Utah. San Antonio. Phoenix. The fans in those cities create an intimidating environment for playoff opponents. No place, though, is more daunting during the playoffs than Boston. "The Boston fans are notoriously loud and educated,” said Jackie MacMullen, Around the Horn regular on ESPN.