It was also half full in Fresno a couple nights earlier, and unlike Vegas its not like Fresno residents had a plethora of other entertainment options. The Lakers are not alone, half full crowds can be found across the NBA cities (and the towns they play in) this time of year.
You can blame the economy, when times are tight why spend hard-earned money to a meaningless exhibition game? But the other half of that equation is, the NBA preseason is tedious. It’s a slog for the players. Nobody seems to be having fun. Phil Jackson uses it to tinker with lineups, he doesn’t care about winning the games in the least. (You could argue Jackson does that up until about February.)
It doesn't have to be that way. People flock to baseball’s meaningless games featuring guys that will spend most of the season in small towns and on buses. But there is something romantic about spring and Spring Training, about rebirth of a team and a season that will go through the summer. That feeling (and the affordable tickets) draws people under 50 to Florida and Arizona every spring.
The NBA preseason is about as romantic as Al Bundy. When the Lakers play at Staples Center, fans (including season ticket holders who have no choice) pay regular season price. The passion of the regular season is lacking.
Ross Siler (formerly of the Daily News in town, now with the Salt Lake Tribune) came up with some ideas to enliven the NBA preseason. Have all the teams in just a couple cities (Vegas and Miami?), and have those teams playing in tournaments against one another. Have them play in smaller arenas and small towns, sort of an NBA barnstorming tour. Have the team’s legendary players there to shake hands.
But the best idea was the most simple — keep the prices down.
Have tickets for a Lakers game at $25 to be down low, $5 to sit way up high. For that price, I’m fine watching Joe Crawford or DJ Mbenga play 30 minutes. The profit is in the parking and beer sales anyway. But get some of the average fans, the ones who watch religiously on television but can’t afford even the cheap seats, a chance to watch their heroes live. Let them get the feel of an NBA game.
That would make the NBA season something people would gladly pay for.