Basketball is almost unique in an important way among the big four sports in the US calendar. The proximity of players to fans makes for a real feeling of being part of the game in a way that football just cannot – sitting above the sidelines means that you are separated from the players by some distance. In baseball you are sat at the top of a high wall and in hockey you are, for your own good, separated from the action by a wall of reinforced plastic (so that no flying frozen rubber puck can hit you in the face).
In basketball, though, a court-side seat really is a court-side seat. If a pass is slightly overthrown there is a good chance that it will land in your lap. You can’t keep it, but you will get to see yourself on the Jumbo-tron. But quite apart from your proximity to the ball, there is your proximity to the players. You can hear them calling for passes, you can hear their sneakers squeaking on the floor, and you can see the sweat beading on their foreheads. It really is disturbingly close to being in the game.
In one game in 2004 between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons, a scuffle broke out on court between the Pistons’ Ben Wallace and the Pacers’ Ron Artest. A plastic cup was thrown at Artest, who entered the stands along with some team mates and sparking a player-fan brawl that ended in five players being charged with assault.