There is no fan experience in professional sports quite like watching an NBA game live. Partly, this can be attributed to the combination of fluid teamwork and jaw-dropping athleticism the players exude in the form of size, speed, jumping ability, grace, and strength. What truly differentiates the NBA from the spectators' perspective, though, is the figurative nakedness of the players. While the NFL buries its athletes beneath pads and masks, the NBA presents its talent in shorts and a tank top.
Give me a seat in the first 15 rows between the baskets, or let me watch it on the glory that is HD television. When a game is not a marquee event, there are usually good empty seats available, and with the proper guile and execution they can be yours.
In the first half, spend as much time scouting out potential seats as watching the game. Without being too greedy—you will never be able to sneak into the first five rows—recognize pockets of seats that are in Rows 6-15 between the baskets. Pay careful attention to exactly what section they are in, as well as the exact rows and seats. The best way to identify these is to scout them on the opposite side of the arena so you can be sure of the section number. Also, make sure to note landmarks—human and otherwise—to help you triangulate the position to know you are snatching the right seats when the time is right. Every detail is important. Seats in the middle of rows are more optimal than those on the aisles, as you want to be as inconspicuous as possible in the eyes of the ushers. Ideally, you will have several targets for the second half in case the first attempt at grabbing good empty seats fails.
With about three minutes left in the 2nd quarter, it is time to make the move down to better seats. Here, it must be noted that while bribing the ushers sounds like a good idea and could work in the movies, most of these ushers are persistently loyal employees whom do not want to risk losing their jobs for the money we cheapskates offer them (there is a reason we did not buy them in the first place). However, there are two good methods I have found for getting into prime viewing location...
As the first half comes to a close, everybody will be leaving their seats to stretch their legs, enjoy some refreshments, and go to the bathroom. For your purposes, these activities should already be done and you should be waiting outside the section you identified in scouting. During this anxious period, it is imperative not to make eye contact with the ushers. When the torrent of fans comes up the aisle and out of the section, it is time to make your move. Do your best Ray Allen impression and break free around the pick. If you are graceful, you can get around the crowd without the usher laying eyes on you, make your way down the aisle, and slide into "your" seats with no one the wiser. In the event that you get caught, do not argue. Hustle over to position number two, and try it again before the rush of fans out of the section completely subsides.
This method, which is easier to execute than the Slither under the right circumstances, is a variation on the tried and true strategy we all used to use in bars before we were of proper age. Here, you need to procure at least one legitimate ticket for the section in question to present to the usher. Go down to the scouted empty seats and make conversation with the people around you. After a few minutes, they will almost always be willing to help your buddies get a good view of the game, since they know that the seats you will be occupying for the second half would have just gone to waste. Take their tickets, meet your buddies in the corridor, bypass the usher, and return the tickets to their rightful owners.
This strategy works best when genuinely rooting for the home team, and impeccably at Phish shows. If done correctly, the passback can even be used to get you and a buddy in with just one ticket. Here's how: present the genuine ticket to the usher and make your way down either to the seat it belongs to, or the one you scouted. As soon as you get down there, make an abrupt movement up, and say something to the usher that will ensure he remembers you, such as, "Oh God, I left my keys on the table" or even "I have to quickly run to the bathroom." Give your buddy your ticket—now the bouncer recognizes you, and it will not be needed on your way back down.
The Slither and the Passback are not successful 100% of the time, but there is nothing to lose in trying. The absolute worst case scenario is that you end up watching the game in the same seats you sat in during the first half--the ones you paid for. It is important to remember that when attempting these bold moves, you should never be rude to the ushers. They are just doing their jobs; people pay a lot of money to sit in the good seats, and if everybody could just sneak down all the time nobody would be dumb enough to buy them. However, if you are the right combination of lucky and persistent, you can certainly find your way into seats that you do not deserve.
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