STAND UP AND SHOUT

The Summit called, and it's not sure Toyota Center fans deserve a championship

The Toyota Center crowd needs to step up. Tim Warner/Getty Images

Fans of the Upper Bowl and those who would die to even get that close, disregard this message. It's not for you. Although, you may want to stick around and second the emotion. 

"This place is rockin'!" -- When's the last time you heard a broadcaster paint such a glowing picture of Toyota Center? Go turn on Game 5 of the '94 series against the Jazz [https://youtu.be/Xgsz28093cI] and ask yourself when was the last time the privileged few of the 100 Sections participated in something that could pass for that kind of pandemonium? Sure, there have been isolated incidents, momentary pockets of pride. Sadly that's about as good as it gets because the crowd at Polk and La Branch has grown a reputation for only one thing and it ain't passionate support.

I was once lucky enough to exist inside one of those aforementioned pockets: The 2004 Western Conference Quarterfinals. Rockets v Super Lakers, Game 3. The only playoff game of any sort that I've ever attended... My friends and I were so proud to be a part of the Friday night crowd that told Kobe and everyone watching at home that, "No means no." We arrived to our 400 Section seats before they even turned on music in the arena. One friend ate an entire meal with only a soy sauce packet for a utensil because he'd forgot to grab a proper one and was unwilling to miss any of the action. This is what life up top looks like. It's up there that we ran into one of The Summit's salty old veterans. This was an old man decked out in all of the glory day gear, who came with his back-to-back newspapers and his old school arena signs. His wife's face, even prior to tip off, wore an apology for the unbridled Rocket fire that would soon emanate directly from the depths of her husband's soul. That man was a human air horn all night. We shook his hand after the game.

Later that weekend, the Rockets lost a Sunday afternoon Game 4 but the home crowd showed Steve Francis so much love that in one particularly climactic moment he pulled his jersey to the side to show them they had this heart... There was Tracy's thirteen in thirty-three. The twenty-two game win streak. Headband of Brothers. Sure, we've had our collective moments together, times it was easy to forget that most often the crowd we let national television audiences see is an outright embarrassment.

Unfortunately those few proud moments are what our boy, Big Data would call statistical outliers. They've got nothing on those crowds at The Summit. Those crowds didn't need a demonic robot piped through the public address system to tell them it was time to call for defense. They didn't need anyone to tell them to stand up and cheer their hearts out for some of the greatest to ever grace the game. Those fans had no guarantees. They didn't know we could win it all until we did, and then they didn't know if it could ever be that good again. Yet they all made The Summit -- they all made Houston, a place that opposing teams dreaded.

When the Astros won their title, they did it on the backs of the fans down at Minute Maid. The opposition was admittedly intimidated by their deafening noise. They may not always represent during the regular season, but when the bright lights of the post season warm up, everyone down at the Juice Box takes their seat and they aren't afraid to stand on top of it either. Hell, even the notoriously tardy tailgaters of NRG know what to do during the playoffs.

The other day, a few hours before the Rockets would ultimately close out the quarterfinals and about thirty minutes before I was supposed to be at work, I got a call offering me a free ticket to the game. Much to my dismay, I was unable to receive the night off or find someone to take my place. If not for desperately needing the couple days income I'd have to miss out on to replace that job, you folks probably would've heard my loud ass on the telecast. These were openly described nose-bleed seats and a job I very clearly needed to retain, and yet I still almost quit so I could attend. Imagine my ensuing horror as I would go on to steal glimpses of tumbleweeds blowing through the first-half stands for all the world to see. I'm out here making difficult life decisions not to be there, meanwhile there were hundreds of people lucky enough to have the privilege and they're nowhere to be found? Let's figure this out. Where are these people and how can we get them into their seats?

There's a theory floating around out there that blames the Lower Bowl's leadership vacuum on corporate season ticket holders. Another blames an irrational fear of downtown. Let's just skip the agoraphobia and address the corporate sellout theory. First of all, what exactly does an attachment to a corporate entity mean in regard to one's ability to support a generationally talented team? It doesn't matter anyway because companies proudly doing business in Houston shouldn't be willing to participate in making it look so bad. Giving your tickets away? Fine, but you have an obligation to see that tickets as important as these are used properly.

We've got the Billionaire Buyer sitting courtside and this isn't the first year he's been down there setting an example for the rest of the city's financially phlegmatic. I commend his fandom. But Fertita and a Ferris wheel full of Red Rowdies can't fix this issue by example alone. This requires hard choices and bold innovation.

Let's bust up these corporations, I mean this corporate theory -- right now. There's no big mystery. It doesn't matter how their tickets were obtained, these people are inevitably out in one of the many swanky lounges or bars ringing the concourse and they're getting lit. Absolutely smashed. Houston, we have an alcohol problem. Accept it and adapt to it. Either eliminate the lounges or go to the elaborately ridiculous lengths of creating a stand-in system for their patrons. This is where we are now. Next season, I vote for the lounges to be replaced with ticketed-seat restaurants. I think the new owner knows a guy who knows a guy with a food connect... I mean, if anyone could revolutionize the way fans receive alcohol at their seat, it's our boy Tilman. In the meantime, shutter the lounges during the game and beef up the roving beer vendor rotation.

The only other culprit we can realistically blame is entitlement. Like these "fans" just don't have it in them to show their support... I lost my voice cheering for an encore at a concert the other night. For one song, from a band that should go on to play it many times, for many years. These Rockets are literally the rarest team the sport has ever seen from an offensive standpoint -- There are two all-out legends running arguably the greatest backcourt of all-time and a burgeoning superstar in his own right in Clint Capela. Not to mention hometown hero, Gerald "Sagemont" Green or the pack of junkyard dogs we've got in Luc, Tuck, and Trev. I'm forgetting the lightning in a bottle that is reigning Sixth Man of The Year, Eric Gordon and a coach who has legitimately revolutionized the game itself. You're telling me there are people in this city who are unimpressed with that? And we're allowing them to represent us? Now? With everything on the line? It's inexcusable.

Maybe it's the organization's fault for failing to better incorporate your chemical dependency into their game presentation. Hey, I love a good chemical. I get it.

Maybe it's James Harden's fault for accessorizing so well that all of you treat him as your own personal accessory -- to be picked up or put down at your Instagram leisure.

Maybe it's Chris Paul's fault for throwing so many ball fakes, you didn't think the game had really started.

Or maybe, just maybe, all this rests on your shoulders.

This is H-Town, where I'm not sure if you've heard, but we Hold It Down. This is a city where men and women who've walked in space walk our streets. This is the city they call when the best minds on Earth are needed to solve a problem. Y'all, we don't even have to bother them with this one. This is easy.

Space City, stand up! Show this team the adoration and respect they deserve. Get loud and represent all of us to the best of your ability. We are a city of the future. You have to decide if we face a future rife with spoiled indifference -- Or is it a future that rewards and even sustains excellence? You, the social elite of the Lower Bowl. You movers, you shakers. You trendsetters. You decide. Tonight at 7.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome