Is Pittsburgh FANtastic?
In the 1990s, when Michael Jordan was still defying gravity, the NBA’s marketing slogan proclaimed that it was FANtastic! For some reason, this has never been the case in Pittsburgh. Now we have this Consol Energy Oil Natural Gas Solar Center (or something like that)–a brand-spanking new arena with luxury suites, fancy concourses, glitzy locker rooms, better seating, and a view of the downtown skyline.
Now that we have it, we need to fill it. No sense in just letting it sit empty. Sure, besides hockey, there will still be concerts and motocross and conferences and the circus and American Idol–and maybe even an NCAA tournament game or two. But there are still a lot more dates to fill. Enter the NBA.
Most big cities are basketball havens. New York, Boston, Philly, Chicago, LA–they all love them some hoops! Not here in the Burgh. We like to say that we are a hockey and football city. But the same could be said of New York, Boston, Philly, and Chicago (okay, not LA). I’m curious as to where the aversion to the hardcourt came from.
I was rather surprised to see a story in the PG about the prospect of the Detroit Pistons being sold and relocating to another city with a new arena. The prime two candidates seem to be Kansas City or Pittsburgh. The main question: can an NBA team compete with the Penguins for Pittsburgh’s winter dollars? Or, are there enough winter dollars in Pittsburgh to support both? As for population, Kansas City is bigger than Pittsburgh (480,129 to 310,037 as of the last census). Pittsburgh, however, is bigger than Orlando and Salt Lake City, two successful NBA cities (though neither shares a hockey team). It really comes down to fan support, though. Case in point: despite our small size, Pittsburgh registers the fifth largest metropolitan TV ratings for the NHL. Perhaps that’s why the Pens are on national TV so much.
As much as I’d love to see the NBA swing through Pittsburgh every winter, I’m not optimistic about its prospects here. Pittsburgh doesn’t take to change quickly. We like the status quo. We’re a bit slow to adopt new things. When we give people directions, they usually include business landmarks that have been gone for a decade or more. We aren’t very open to politicians with new ideas when we just got used to spelling R-a-v-e-n-s-t-a-h-l. Basketball? I’m not so sure about that. Not in Pittsburgh. What if it affects the ice quality for the Pens? Heck, now that we have the new arena, there are some who are getting all misty-eyed over the Igloo. Can’t we save it for a candy dish or pull in HBO with it or something?
Plus, I’m not sure what ‘Burghers would think about taking another city’s team. It wasn’t long ago that the Penguins themselves were almost bound for KC until Mario saved the day and got stadium financing done. Detroit is an economic mess. Few in Pittsburgh have a warm place in their hearts for the Motor City. But maybe us ol’ Rustbelters should stick together on stuff like this. I’m not sure.
The Pittsburgh Pipers won the ABA title in ’67 before being sold to Minneapolis the next year. Then, the ABA returned with the Pittsburgh Pioneers. Unfortunately, none of the owners must have been from Pittsburgh and didn’t know that this was also the nickname of Point State Park College (now University). PSP threatened to sue and the basketball team name switched to the Condors, who lasted for four seasons.
Recently, a different and smaller ABA gave us the Pittsburgh Phantoms. Apparently, they are still here and play their home games at the Carnegie Library in Homestead. Their owner doubts the viability of basketball here because he has trouble drawing 200 people for games. Seriously, the team plays their home games at a library. Can you cheer for them, or will you get shushed? Will the team have to relocate if that library gets shut down? If the Phantoms truly exist (and I’m still not so sure about this), I don’t think that they are a reliable litmus test for the prospects of the NBA.
This year the Cleveland Cavaliers played an exhibition game at the Peterson Events Center and drew 10,000 or so folks–2,000 more than last year. I say that’s not bad. First, it was an exhibition game. The Steelers can’t draw for an exhibition game. Second, despite the appeal of LeBron James, it was Cleveland. Pittsburgh is just never, ever going to adopt a team in Cleveland. Not going to happen.
I say the best chance is to go retro with this thing. Let’s bring back the Condors. Let’s have more dates for sale at the Consol Energy Nuclear Power Fusion Arena, or whatever it’s called. (Seriously, we need a nickname for the place… pronto!) If we do it, let’s rock the black and gold and red. Bring on Kobe and LeBron! Bring on the Knicks and the Celtics. It’s on! I’d be on the Condor bandwagon in a minute to prove that Pittsburgh is, indeed, FANtastic.