The approach to American Airlines Center, home of the Dallas Mavericks, was an intimidating one.
Don’t get me wrong, the Houston Rockets‘ Toyota Center is a lovely facility, especially with this year’s upgrades to the concourse and the addition of a massive (the world’s largest, in fact) indoor-center-hung scoreboard that seems to run almost the length of the court, but AAC is an architectural beauty.
The building itself is gorgeous and the plaza in front is dotted with expensive restaurants, a fan-gear store or two and a Dallas sports-radio themed bar. You are very, very aware of the fact that you’re in Dallas’ territory. Mavs territory.
My friend and fellow Rockets fanatic, Dustin, and I parked and walked the couple of blocks from the lot toward AAC, and as we approached we began to notice subtle differences between what we were experiencing and what we were used to.
It’s just a completely different vibe than what an opposing fan would get if they were to visit a Rockets preseason NBA game.
The relationship between the Rockets and Mavs is one of vitriol, at least on Houston’s part. They both play in the highly competitive southwest division, Dallas dashed our playoff hopes in 2005, and I’ve heard on more than one occasion Houston fans refer to their star as Dirk Nowitzki (because he’s got no D, and I guess because he’s irksome.)
Side note: I can’t stress how much I enjoy arguing with Mavs fans. They’re easily my least favorite team in the western conference and being their perennial little brother for the past 15 years has instilled an undying hate in the very depths of my heart.
Dustin and I decided to pre-game (never used more literally) at the aforementioned Fan Sports Lounge, a bar presumably owned by 105.3 The Fan, a Dallas sports-radio station. We walked in, and, as we assumed before deciding to check it out, were the only Rockets fans in the joint, which is fine, and honestly, kind of what we were looking for.
You see, in Houston, if a couple folks in Mavs jerseys walked into a sports bar near Toyota Center immediately before a Rox game, somebody would definitely say something. It, in all likelihood, would be in jest, a debate would likely begin, and then at the end of the day all fans would (while silently resentful of each other) probably enjoy the conversation. It would be fun. Honestly.
In “The Big D”? Not so much.
The bartender was cordial and promptly brought us our cold beers, and the other fans (almost all of them wearing variations of blue and white and silver and green) seemed perfectly apathetic to our existence, at least vocally.
But there were glares, my god were there glares.
It’s as if our presence created an instantly somber atmosphere within a 15-foot radius. Like the colors Red and Yellow are trigger mechanisms for instant passive aggressiveness in every big haired Dallas blonde and her bulking date.
We thought perhaps the private nature of the bar was contributing to this silent fury, so we finished our beers and headed across the street to the arena.
Much to our chagrin, the mood was the same in the AAC.
We meandered through the concourse before heading to our seats, holding up fists of solidarity for our fellow displaced Houstonians also dressed in Rockets garb, hoping for some entertaining conversations with local Mavs fans or at least some passing remark to get us riled before the game, and still nothing.
The seats were lower bowl, just to the right of the basket, so even for a preseason game, the fan turnout wasn’t bad. We hooped and hollered and made fools of ourselves when the Rockets came out to warm up, as one would be expected from fans like us.
As Dustin mused on the painful addition of Toney Douglas to the Rockets back court, I looked around and realized how insanely outnumbered we were. I’d never been an “away-fan” before this game so I came in expecting to be harassed, taunted and teased (hopefully in good fun, if not, then that would be cool too), and it just never materialized.
This wasn’t for lack of trying. At one point I loudly screamed towards a fan, “Dustin, he actually bought a Dallas Mavs Elton Brand jersey! Hahaha.”
Kevin Martin had a great first half, scoring 20 and knocking down a seemingly endless stream of defended threes, even doing a very un-Kevin-Martin-like thing and stealing a pass then tearing off down court for a fast break layup.
We took a 2 point lead into the half and as we headed into the concourse once again for more beer we were met with more uncomfortable stares and fans who seemed strangely willing to avoid even the friendliest of confrontation.
All in all, one Mavs fan yelled “Rockets Suck” after I gave a little kid with a Jeremy Lin jersey a high-five.
I said, “Scoreboard.”
He said, “Championship.”
And I said, “Uhh, we have two.”
And that was that.
The Rockets went on to play terribly in the 3rd quarter and completely tanked the second half after pulling Omer Asik (who looks great in person by the way, he truly made an offensive leap this off-season.)
Despite the sudden 15-point deficit, the presence of players like Carlos “He still plays?” Delfino on the floor, and a shocking offensive burst by Dallas’ talented rookie Jae Crowder, the heckling never happened.
After the game I was left confused and a little bummed.
I wanted a true “away-fan” experience. I wanted to be a Pittsburgh Steelers fan in Baltimore. I wanted to be wearing Red and White and an Elephant suit to an Auburn game. But folks, if you’re looking to rile up the fans, excite the masses and bring chaos upon the home team’s happy equilibrium then it seems AAC isn’t your place. It sure wasn’t on Monday.
I don’t know if it’s because the people of Dallas are legitimately classier than us carcinogen ingesting coastal residents, if they don’t care as much (granted, it is the preseason, but come on hoops heads!), or if all five feet, six inches of me was just too intimidating, but I can tell you one thing for sure; leaving the American Airlines Center was a lot less intimidating than entering it. Nice place though.
Ian Jacoby is a staff writer for RantSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @IanJacoby.