Markieff Morris made headlines earlier this season when he criticized the passion and intensity of Suns fans at US Airways Center, saying that he didn't feel the Suns had a home court advantage.
"They don't boo but they don't cheer that much either. We feed off, for the most part, off the energy of each other. I know we're a lot better than that. I know Phoenix fans are a lot better than that. Like I said, we have a lot of genuine fans that cheers for us – the ones that are in the first row, in the second row, in the third row. Once you go up, you feel like people was just at the game, just watching."
I was reminded of this statement as I listened to the crowd at last night's game, when I felt the thundering cheers at "Roaracle" Arena, figuring Keef must have been thinking, "why can't we have fans like this?" Of course, I was thinking, "why can't we Suns fans have a team as good as the Warriors?" so I guess it all evens out.
But is it that simple? Have Suns fans had their passion quashed by five frustrating, playoffs-less seasons, multiple public relations bungles, and a perception that they don't have a clear direction to achieve success? Will that electric environment Steve Nash mentioned he felt in Phoenix during the "Seven Seconds or Less" era return when the playoff wins do?
From an arena experience standpoint, the game last night was a 180 degree difference from the Suns games I've attended at USAC over the last few years. Set aside the quality of the team for now. Warriors fans hung on every play, oohing and aahing, then erupting when the Warriors hit a big shot. It was an event, a party; you could feel the energy in the building.
The many empty seats to start most third quarters at USAC are embarrassing. I didn't see that last night in Oracle. Some of it is as simple as the fact that Oracle doesn't allow in and out privileges, while USAC does. Even if Oracle did offer "in and out," there's nowhere for fans to go around the arena. If there's gonna be a party around the games, it will be in the arena.
And it is a party. While they feature some of the same cheesy arena "let's get loud" prompts as USAC ("Dee-feense!"), they seemed fewer, or maybe it's just that genuine fan noise drowned them out.
That is key. It has to be organic. I mean, how many people actually clap their hands to the awful, "Everybody clap your hands (clap clap clap clap). Clap, clap, clap your hands"? You can't fake excitement.
So, what will it take to build the kind of fanbase Keef wants? To build the kind of exciting environment that will make attending games at the soon-to-be-named Talking Stick Resort Arena an event that nobody wants to miss, as Warriors games are? To build an entire fanbase as rabid as we are here at Bright Side?
Is it a matter of demographics? Marketing? Arena logistics? Some Warriors fans fear their planned move from Oracle Arena in Oakland across the bay to San Francisco will change this dynamic. But the Suns have proven to be wildly popular at the arena once dubbed "The Purple Palace" in the heart of downtown Phoenix. And now it's gone flat.
Or is it just as simple as, "Give us a winning team, and we'll cheer like mad. Until then, meh"?
I don't know, but Keef had a point (though he should never have publicly stated what he did), and I'm sure he feels it even more when in a great road environment like last night. I'm envious, too. I want Suns homes games to feel like that.