Keith Dyson appreciates a good game of basketball. Even more, he loves the little guys. That’s why Dyson showed up at the Entertainment and Sports Arena box office early Saturday afternoon. He picked two seats on the back row of Section 105, for himself and his son, ahead of the inaugural Capital City Go-Go game.
“I wanted to check out the G League team,” Dyson said, explaining his early-bird purchase. “And also, I like underdogs.”
Minor-league basketball in Ward 8 on a perfectly good Saturday night? For Dyson and the announced crowd of 2,383 — including NBA Commissioner Adam Silver courtside — that would be a yes, please. Fans grooved in their brand-new seats to the go-go rhythms played during timeouts and, in the fourth quarter when the DJ spun a snippet of Junk Yard Band, even after the music stopped, the refrain “Sardines! Hey! And pork and beans!” was sung a cappella throughout the arena.
During its 107-105 overtime loss to the Greensboro Swarm, Capital City leaned heavily into its nickname — go-go music legends were recognized at halftime — and the team’s first fans embraced their moment as sports pioneers.
“I mean, it has to be a super fan,” Go-Go Coach Jarell Christian said, predicting what type of fan he expected in the team’s debut. “I know D.C. loves their sports teams. D.C.’s known for their high school basketball so I would imagine we’d get some high school basketball folks who kind of know the roster that we have. We have a lot of local flavor here.”
Gabriel Klingman, however, wasn’t exactly the “super fan” type.
“To be perfectly honest, I got a free ticket,” the 27-year-old said, explaining why he took the Green Line to Congress Heights.
Klingman’s first live basketball game in about 15 years came courtesy of his friend Kushal Ismael, a D.C. homer.
“I was really excited that they are building a new arena over here and that the Mystics are going to play here and we’re getting a new team,” Ismael said as he watched the first half from the corner section in 109.
Ismael identified himself as a D.C. native, born and raised on all teams. He even wore a hat with the logo of the Washington Valor, the city’s arena football team. Although Ismael places basketball on his lowest rung of the four major professional sports, he considered the Go-Go’s first game as another day in the “best sports year” in D.C. history.
“The Caps won the Cup. Wayne Rooney to the [D.C. United]. We hosted the [MLB] All-Star Game. Mystics to the Finals,” Ismael said, ticking off the biggest sports headlines of 2018. Ismael now adds his inaugural Go-Go game to that list.
“To me, this was super exciting. I wanted to be here,” he said. “It’s kind of cool to see smaller leagues.”
The 4,000-seat arena provides an intimate atmosphere. Events DC operates the arena and plugs that as a selling point with the slogan “So Close.” Some fans took advantage of the closeness.
Devonte Graham, point guard for the visiting Greensboro Swarm, received hair-grooming tips.
“No. 4! You need a pick!” one fan yelled.
Officials could hear instant feedback on their calls.
“What was that, 28?” another man screamed at referee Nate Anderson.
When the fan, the same one who had earlier teased Graham’s woolly hairstyle, called official Angelica Suffren “trash,” she did not respond. A Swarm player on the bench turned and stared.
“You trash, too!” the fan barked.
To which the player responded: “Sit yo' fat ass down!”
So close, indeed.
Silver opted to sit among the people and attended the game on the invitation of Ted Leonsis, the majority owner of Monumental Sports & Entertainment. Before tip-off, Silver took a tour of the arena and practice facility and called the integration of the three teams (Wizards, Mystics and Go-Go) as “just about the most exciting project going on in the league right now.”
For a fan such as Dyson, watching players chase an elusive goal, that excitement crystallized on the court.
“[Few] of these guys have gotten drafted. They’re searching for their dreams, so they play in the G League to make it to the NBA,” Dyson said. “I played in a Division III school, so I always root for the underdog.”
Correction: An earlier version of the story stated that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver left the game “long ahead of the final buzzer.” Silver stayed through the game. The story has been updated.
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