Watch a game from the nosebleeds. It’s important. I sat near the top of the Staples Center for Game 3 of the Memphis Grizzlies/Los Angeles Clippers first round series. It’s interesting being that high up. The music blares during pregame warm-ups, but not every position within the arena feels the same tremble. The bass of each thumping rap track is deeper up here. It’s dark—much darker than the illuminated levels below, which more vividly show the arena’s sea of red.
I didn’t understand how high up I was until I looked straight and realized that the beams and rafters were at eye level; the same beams featured in ESPN’s new playoff promotional ads with players like Paul Pierce and Kevin Durant. From up there, the separation between athlete and fan is stretched and elongated to its absolute limits. The peering down at sharp angles creates the illusion of there being a world below and a world above, tethered together only by the constraints of the venue. We shout loudly and squint out of necessity. We are not the championed, but we are the champions.
Still, sitting with such an aerial perspective isn’t without its benefits. An example is watching Chris Paul’s ability to control the court from a macro level. I’ve seen Paul play from near-courtside seats. I’ve seen the majesty of his ball control, of his technically perfect ball-handling ability. The methods to which he is able to elude and create space from his defender are illustrated to perfection from that close up. But that’s at a micro level. Being able to see the intricacies of his handle means gawking solely at his presence, seeing the space he’s created after the fact. From the nosebleeds, Paul is no bigger than a chess piece. Rather than having the eyes focus on his hands and footwork, fans key in on the routes— the emerging and retracting pillars that Paul deftly uses as shields and decoys to create space, lines of vision, and blind spots in an opposing defense.
Admiring individual excellence is still possible from such heights, but that wasn’t the main draw. For me, as a detached, wayfaring fan with no particular team allegiance, I was most interested by the requisite extra-large shirts given to every attending fan. It’s a very simple symbol of unification and community. All housed within our own personal extra-large gown, we are sharing a collective experience understood only by those who were there. For 48 minutes, I was able to take on a sort of drag posing as a Clippers fan, embracing a sense of community and investment that I’d never truly known.
The most heartwarming example of community could be seen in the fourth quarter where Reggie Evans, once again, made all the difference. Our “Reggie! Reggie! Reggie!” chants started in the second quarter, steeped in irony, shouted with a subsequent wink and nudge. But over the course of the game—and more specifically, over the course of his six rebounds in the fourth quarter—the chants grew. Each time a little louder, with nods of approval acknowledging his energy that had resuscitated the team. By the end of the night, the “Reggie!” chants were as vociferous as any. It was a smooth gradient of intent over the course of the game from irony to earnestness. We probably could have gone without the “MVP” chants during his 2-for-6 performance from the free throw line in the second quarter, but some things just make more sense at the time.
After the game, my friends and I freeway-hopped our way to Guisados, one of the best taco shops in L.A. In the car, my friend asked me, “Don’t you love how the Clippers community just embraced Reggie Evans like that?”
It was a great showing of support for a hardworking player, and Reggie Evans himself is a great reflector of what makes nosebleed fans special. There is no glamour. There are no perks. The men and women tossing free T-shirts don’t have detachable rocket-propelled arms. We aren’t getting those shirts (though this poor kid standing in a few rows in front of me really thought he had a chance). We exist and thrive in the shadow below (or in our case, above) the bright lights. And as our collective shouts funnel downward, it becomes clear that we’re as integral to the experience as anything else.
I’ll apologize for all of the we’s. I don’t use it often, and I normally don’t have a reason to. But the unique energy of team allegiance; it’s infectious. I’m glad I was able to share it with fellow nosebleeders. It appears that distance made my heart grow fonder, if only for a day.