Season Ticket Review – Glimpses of the future

“Where is Bakersfield?”


Game 19: March 3rd, 2007

Bakersfield Jam (13-23) at Sioux Falls Skyforce (19-15)

It’s in California, for those who don’t know. This is a common question whenever a team comes to Sioux Falls for the first time. Most of teams of the NBA D-League aren’t from recognizable major cities – they’re from close by suburbs, or middle of the country minor-metropolitans, or they’re secondary cities dwarfed by their more well known state-mates.

Bakersfield is in California. The Dakota Wizards play in Bismarck (that’s in North Dakota) and the Idaho Stampede play in Boise. Fort Worth, Anaheim, Tulsa and Austin all have teams. They’re cities that are big enough to support semi-professional basketball, but not big enough to handle a true professional team.

Last night, we weren’t sure who we were watching – on either side. The Bakersfield Jam made their Sioux Falls Arena debut looking strangely like the 12th round of an NBA Live 2006 expansion draft – Mateen Cleaves, Qyntel Woods, Gerry McNamara. The Skyforce gave their uniforms a Sioux Falls Arena debut themselves – replica Timberwolves jerseys.

It was, after all, Timberwolves Affiliate Night, complete with Crunch (who we last saw whooping it up with his fellow mascots during Crunch’s Birthday Party, last weekend at the Target Center.) Crunch is a real mascot – messing with the refs, chasing the Famous Dave’s Pig mascot, having fun with the crowd. He was great. Our scruffy mascot Thunder was put to shame.

Of course, Crunch was nowhere to be found after halftime. Maybe we only hired him for the first half. Maybe he had a flight to catch. Regardless, Thunder was back in control.

There were times that our team was equally nowhere to be found. We played an up and down, maddening game. A 17 point lead was lost as Bakersfield scored six points to end the first quarter, then beat us by another 9 points in the second quarter. We nursed a two point lead into the half, where Crunch dunked some balls and our players struggled to find a way to stop the bleeding.

Mo McHone was gone again, so this was Nate Tibbetts’ team. Kerrie and I have put 1:1 odds on Tibbetts being our head coach next year, and these last couple of games have shown what he can do. He’s a great coach, and he looks like a natural out there. He’s got a good rapport with the players, he’s got the look of a young, hungry Flip Saunders, and he’s already integrated into the city’s culture. Tibbetts is our future, we’re sure of it.

So it was no surprise that we came out playing well, missing the same open shots we were hitting in the first quarter but keeping enough of a defensive presence to stay in the game. We tossed the ball around well, and even though Amir Johnson, who has seemingly either lost his confidence or his step since coming back, played a less than stellar game, we held on through the third and beginning of the fourth quarter.

Most of us Sioux Falls faithful were made furious in the fourth quarter by – you guessed it – the referees. This is the same crew we had two games ago – the same Gra-Y skilled, bumbling idiots we had insulted to the point of tears. Tonight, they continued to call minimal fouls on Eddie Fobbs, our defensive stopper and biggest improvement over the past season.

With five fouls already, Fobbs drove to the basket. He lowered a shoulder and went for a shot. The opposing player flopped, the ref called a foul, and Fobbs was out of the game. The call wouldn’t have been called on anyone else. The foul was barely enough to call in the first place. And with 8:30 left in the fourth quarter, you DO NOT call a ticky-tack offensive foul on a player with five fouls already, especially when the momentum is so strongly in favor of his team and his actions.

It was a stupid call, one that showed just why these refs are in the D-League training. His call took over the game – took control away from the players and put it squarely on the shoulders of the referees. If that’s what they want, then fine – they should quit their jobs and play video game basketball. If control is what they want, then maybe they should be out there playing the game. Officials enforce the rules. They don’t control the game.

We won the game. Frank Johnson had a great stat line (30 points, 6 assists, 8 boards). But I’m still angry about that call. The refs think a little too much of themselves, sometimes, and it’s that ego – that unwillingness to bend or to admit mistake, to let anyone in on the control, to understand that the flow of a game is led by the players, not the whistles – that will keep them in the D-League for the rest of their careers.

Aspire for more, guys. And get your head out of your ass.

Skyforce 119, Jam 113

This was lovingly handwritten on March 4th, 2007