Thursday night I had another night without a game to call, and well, I was in the mood to go to a game instead of calling a game. Being the fan I am, staying out of an arena is like keeping a fat person away from the gravy fries at Nectars. So, with the Frost Heaves in town to play Bellingham, I made the trip down I-89 to the Aud in Barre.
When I got to the arena, I was honestly prepared to sit in the stands, maybe jot down a few notes and yap with the throng of fans bearing "Free Kerry Lyons" shirts that sit behind the Vermont bench. Kerry is a guy who made it through the open tryout, worked his way through vet's camp, and was offered a contract. Kerry is one of the world's nicest guys who signs autographs, talks to the kids, and is having a blast just being on a pro team. When I asked him how things were going, he said, "Chris, I had my ten minutes of fame when I played in the first game, and the rest is gravy for me. I am just loving this whole dream." By the way, Kerry hasn't played since, and during blowouts the mob yells "We want Kerry" in hopes he will get some PT. I am convinced Kerry would wax the floor of the Aud on his hands and knees if he was asked to. He is one of the guys who will literally do anything to hang on to the dream of playing pro ball.
So, as I was meandering around and checking things out, Mike Healy of the Heaves asked me if I was working or watching the game. When I told him a little of one and more of the other, he asked if I knew how to run the shot clock. When I answered in the affirmative, he asked if I would be willing to run the thing. Hmmmmmmmmm, courtside seat, get to listen to the players, listen to Coach Voigt work the officials; it didn't take me more than a quarter of a second to say yes.
Mike gave me the rundown of the rules, which buttons to press, which switch to hit to light up the 3-D lights, and I was ready to rock. I played with the 3-D lights and ran the shot clock to make sure I knew how to press buttons, and I was officially a shot clock operator. Before the game started I was given final instructions by the refs who said not to reset quick; wait a half second to make sure there wasn't another change of possession, or that something else had not happened that would make them stop play to reset the clock. Once they did that, I was ready for a night of hopefully not having cowbells thrown at me because I couldn't press a button.
More or less, I managed to get through the game without any problems. There was once the refs had to stop the game because I reset the clock when I shouldn't have, but other than that, and a few times I didn't even start the thing, it wasn't a bad night. My main problem was seeing the action. Yes, I was in the best seat in the house, but when subs came into the game, I couldn't see a darn thing. Man alive those guys are tall!! Even when they are sitting they are two feet taller than I am when I am standing on a chair, so I had to wiggle my way around so I could see if a ball had in fact hit the rim or not. Finally, one of the ladies doing the scorebook politely asked the guys to sit so we could see. Man, I should have thought of that, but I was a rookie, so I knew my place.
The most fun I had in the whole experience was listening to the coaches and the players. Coach Voight was riding the refs hard, mainly because they didn't have a clue. "Be consistent!! Just be consistent!! That is all I ask!!" is what I heard about 200 times. The best was when a Vermont player got nailed for a foul, that in the NBA would be a continuation foul, no free throws and no basket. There was one small problem; there is no continuation in the ABA!! Oh yeah, Will was livid at that one, and I actually thought he would get a technical because he was red in the face and screaming. Oh yeah, he was a good two feet on the floor too, but who cares about that detail? By the way, the refs were just awful and that is being nice. At one point I was convinced it was going to take a visit from the medical examiner in order to have a foul called. Yes, it was that bad.
The game itself was a blast. 1,500 fans were in the building, ringing cowbells, and screaming their lungs out. The stat guy/webmaster/PR guy/everything guy from Bellingham said he hadn't seen anything like this in the last couple of years. He said his team was looking forward to the long trip from Washington because they knew it would be a packed house, and the fans would be loud and into the game. During the games that take place during timeouts, he kept on saying, "Man, why didn't I think of this?" He simply raved about the game, the rules, and the total class of the Vermont organization. He said, "We haven't had to worry about a thing except playing since the minute we got here."
Hey Mike, if you are reading this, let me know when you need a shot clock guy again. Next time I promise I will get the 3-D lights right and will start the clock when I am supposed to. Folks, the ABA itself is in trouble with the CEO being ousted, along with countless other issues, but don't let that keep you away from Heaves games. The atmosphere is as the guy from Bellingham said, "This is like a Duke game at Cameron Indoor!!"; the fans know their stuff, and it is great basketball. Tickets are cheap, parking is free, and the players sign autographs until they are kicked out of the arena. Good show Alex, keep it up.