I sat in the stands at Gallagher-Iba Arena for the Bedlam game Saturday. Not for some kind of sociological experiment. Because I wanted to see.
Several years ago, OSU’s press row was moved to the upper bowl in the arena’s south end. It was moved for financial reasons, which I totally understand. You can sell the previous press area for high-dollar tickets.
In recent years, a row on the south baseline has been set up for beat writers — those who cover the team full time for The Oklahoman, Tulsa World, Stillwater News-Press and newspapers from the opposing team. Which is very good and much appreciated.
But I have a problem with the new press row in Sections 311 and 312. Namely, I can’t see.
Oh, I can follow the ball, though depending on the seat, I’m not always sure if a basket was made. I often have to rely on the reaction of the players or the fans. And I can mostly differentiate between the Cowboys; when you watch Markel Brown play for four years, you get to know his mannerisms by instinct.
But the visiting team, no chance. The numbers are hard to read. The faces are impossible to recognize.
Worst of all, we can’t see much of the bench area. We basically sit extended from the opponents’ bench. So we’re what seems like miles from the OSU bench. If Travis Ford is standing, we can sort of follow his mood and reactions. And despite being closer to the foes, they aren’t much better.
It’s precarious to write about a game in which the people at home, watching on TV, know much more than you do about the game you’re covering. I was at the OSU-Memphis game earlier in the season and left the arena that night quite frustrated. So I made the decision. From now on, for a big game, I’m getting closer. I’ll just buy a single ticket somewhere in the 200 level.
And that’s what my plan was Saturday. Without the rush on tickets, and with OSU fans down on this season, I figured I could get a ticket easily.
I went out in front of Gallagher-Iba about 30 minutes before tipoff and talked to a couple of scalpers. One guy wanted face value for a seat in the upper deck. I can’t remember what the price was; $47 or something. I told him he had to be kidding.
I found another guy selling singles at a reduced rate. Great seat, lower level of the 200s. If you don’t know the numbers, think of it this way. Just up from the WELCOME TO GALLAGHER-IBA ARENA signs that stretch across each side. Very good seat. He wanted $100. Then he dropped to $80. I looked at the ticket. It was priced at $175.
Good night nurse. OSU is selling basketball tickets, for seats not on the court, for$175? You’ve got to be kidding me. Were Larry Bird and Magic Johnson about to duel in their primes? Was Bedlam suddenly going to feature Bill Russell vs. Wilt Chamberlain? Who was singing the national anthem, Diana Ross?
If OSU is selling a basketball ticket for $175 and you’re not sitting on Boone Pickens’ lap, the price is too high. That kind of economics makes the event off limits to a huge chunk of fans, and the people who can afford such tickets often don’t see basketball as a huge investment, which means they don’t care if they go or not. That’s how no-shows are born.
I went back in to the press room to bide my time. With eight minutes left on the clock, and the arena about half full, I went back outside. Anyone with a spare ticket in their hand was going to eat it. One of the scalpers I chatted with earlier hollered at me. I waved him off. A guy stood near the front steps of Gallagher, holding up a single ticket. I asked him if he had a single, where it was (I wanted to see the benches) and how much. He said Section 217 and he was giving it away.
So I thanked him, walked back into the arena and walked straight to the seat, where I was sitting by the guy who gave me the ticket. Nice fellow by the name of Paul. Wore a tye-dye shirt. Said he’s been an OSU hoops fan since 1974, though he couldn’t have been born much earlier than that.
It was an excellent seat. I was nine rows high in the 200 level, above the baseline but a few in from the sideline, so I had a great view of the OSU bench and could see Lon Kruger’s bunch well, too. I figured I was more than halfway closer to the court than my seat on press row.
As you know, the stands weren’t full. OSU listed 10,070 in attendance. I would have guessed 9,000, but I’m not quibbling. I know this. There was plenty of room. I was three seats from the aisle, and no one sat in the two seats next to me. And no one sat in the seat in front of me. So I had plenty of room to scribble my game accounts on a legal pad.
Former OU basketball player Renzi Stone sat on the aisle in front of me — luckily, he wasn’t directly in front of me; he’s 6-foot-10 — and former Cowboy football player Sam Mayes sat on the aisle in front of Renzi.
I didn’t really engage anyone in conversation, though I mentioned a couple of developments — OSU’s lack of foul trouble, notably — to Paul. A couple of people recognized me, but they were very cordial. One guy tried to get me to clap to the beat as the OSU Spirit Run was conducted in the second half.
I was also impressed with the decorum of the crowd. Not a lot of vitrol directed toward the Sooners. Less grumbling about the refs than I hear at State Fair Arena for the state high school tournament. Not even much disgust toward the embattled Ford. About the only low-rent moment came during a late OSU foul shot. Some kid on the other side of the arena had been yelling “Boomer” every time OSU was about to shoot a foul shot; in a quiet arena, it stood out. Some middle-aged OSU fan finally yelled back, “White trash.” I’m not too big on the term white trash. But that was the only poor-taste thing I heard.
As I wrote in the Sunday Oklahoman, the crowd sort of teetered between a sense of resignation and dread.
The typical conversations went something like this. “Can we handle it,” one man asked. “I’m here on the off chance we can,” responded another.
Another fan was more philosophical: “I’ve been coming a long time; you have to learn to take the good with the bad.”
Here’s how you knew the crowd was really sedate. During a first-half timeout, plugging the halftime ceremony honoring the 2004 Final Four team, OSU showed a video of John Lucas’ game-winning shot against St. Joe’s in the East Regional final. I sat courtside in New Jersey that night. It was one of the best games I ever covered and one of the biggest shots I’ve ever seen. It was all I could do to keep from shouting myself that night in the Meadowlands; 10 years later, the thrill hasn’t subsided that much. I wanted to cheer it again. But the video of that magic Cowboy moment didn’t bring much of a rise from the OSU crowd on Saturday.
The Bedlam game itself was great. Tight. Well-played. Dramatic finish. The Sooners made the plays in the final two minutes, the Cowboys didn’t and thus OU won 77-74. Good win for the Sooners. Discouraging defeat for the Cowboys.
Best of all, for me, I know exactly what happened.
Which means I’ll be back in the Gallagher-Iba crowd, if I can find a good seat at a reasonable price or some kindly soul takes pity on me, like Paul did, and wants to fill up the great coliseum, even if it’s with a guy holding a legal pad, just trying to see the game.