In the arena, you could almost forget.
A guy walked around on metal stilts, and the dancers kept throwing T-shirts to the crowd, and little kids grooved on the Dance Cam, and there was so much going on Thursday night at the Time Warner Cable Arena that you could almost forget the sad fact on the floor, which was that the Charlotte Bobcats were hurtling straight to the butt end of history.
The gray-haired gent running the elevator down to the media room smiled and said, “What brings you here?”
“I’m writing about the game.”
“Oh. Well. Good luck with that.”
Might as well give away the ending. The Bobcats lost 104-84 to the New York Knicks, ending their season at 7-59, a .106 winning percentage – the worst ever in the NBA. (The season was cut to 66 games because of a lockout; the worst team over a full 82-game season was the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, who finished 9-73, a .110 percentage.)
This might sum up the season: Last week, when the Bobcats played Memphis, Charlotte’s Bismack Biyombo scuffled with Memphis’ Rudy Gay. “Biyombo told me, ‘This is my house,’” Gay said later. “I told him, ‘You have seven wins. It’s everybody’s house.’”
This also might sum it up. Here’s how the Knicks started the game Thursday night: dunk, dunk, layup, layup, layup, dunk.
The Bobcats tried. Lord, they tried. They hustled back on defense, and passed to the open man, and squared up for their jumpers. If you ever go to an NBA game, you’ll never again say they don’t play hard.
It didn’t hurt that the Knicks rested three starters. Still, the Bobcats kept it close deep into the third quarter.
And then the Knicks’ Amare Stoudemire took a pass in the paint and lifted off. The Bobcats’ Tyrus Thomas went right up with him, and for a second there they gave you what only the NBA can – two men in flight, their hands 11 feet off the ground, a moment when anything could happen.
Thomas started coming down. Stoudemire didn’t. And he dunked on Thomas’ head.
The Knicks led by seven then, and soon it was 15, and not long after that the Bobcats were officially the worst NBA team ever.
In some ways, this was by design. The Bobcats spent the last two years dumping almost all their best players, because in the NBA, the best way for a middling team to get better is to hit bottom. Terrible teams get great draft picks, and the Bobcats now have the best chance at Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, the dead-lock top pick in this year’s draft.
The problem is, the Bobcats still asked fans to buy tickets and watch this terrible team. Most fans, having good sense, stayed home. (The announced attendance Thursday was 16,023. Eyeballing it, the arena looked a bit more than half-full.)
Lloyd and Debra Kelso are giving up on their season tickets in section 208. The Bobcats begged them to renew, even put them in a suite to talk them into it. But they’ve been to barely half the games this season. They haven’t even tried to give their tickets away.
“I told Debra, this is not any fun to see them be behind 20 points in the first quarter,” says Lloyd, a Gastonia lawyer. “I saw where Michael Jordan and Larry Brown were both unhappy, and that’s why Larry Brown left. Well, who’s happy now?”
Ah, Michael. The Bobcats’ owner attended the finale but didn’t speak to the media. The only time he was mentioned all night was when a whole row of fans won free Jordan sneakers.
It was Fan Appreciation Night, and if you didn’t go home with something, you weren’t trying. Parachutes floated down from the rafters, each one with an NBA 2K12 video game attached. Everybody in section 106 got free chicken supremes from Bojangles’. They even had (as the scoreboard said) a CAR GIVEAWAY, although if you listened to the fine print, the CAR GIVEAWAY was just a one-year lease.
Truth is, it was fun. You could see the Lynx train pull up through the big arena windows, and there was a buzz in the air on the concourse, and all those transplanted New Yorkers came to cheer on the Knicks, and it felt like a live night in the city.
“I know it’s been a tough year,” Gerald Henderson, the Bobcats’ best player, told the crowd before tipoff. “We’re going to work all summer trying to turn this thing around.”
And with the score 0-0, everybody cheered.
But by the end the crowd had thinned out. A few fans put bags over their heads. The Knicks, up 20, held the ball and let the shot clock run out. With 4.4 seconds left, the Bobcats had one last possession in the season.
The inbounds pass went to Cory Higgins. As the clock went to zero, he didn’t even look at the basket.
It was pointless.