Everything about the first night of the La Crosse Showtime’s existence in the La Crosse Center was run-and-gun.
From the play on the court, to the production behind the scenes, improvisation was a central theme of the night. The Showtime won 114-113 over the Chicago Fury, but if you really cared about that you’d have been in the estimated crowd of 1,400 people that came out to the La Crosse Center on Saturday to watch the game.
But the questions that have been on sports minds in the Coulee Region since the Showtime came into existence earlier this year were simple ones: Could this stick? Would it last? What would it look like?
So, admittedly in the smallest sample size possible after Saturday’s maiden voyage, the answers appear to be these: Maybe. We’ll see. A little strange.
Let’s start on the floor.
The current ABA style breeds the playground-esque pace and feel of its ancestor that gained such traction that it merged with the NBA back in the 1970s. The 20th Century ABA benefitted from a rare collection of talent that went on to become mainstream stars like Julius Erving and Moses Malone. The current iteration uses some intentionally gimmicky rules.
The 3D Light, which is activated when a team creates a turnover from the backcourt, is the biggest ploy to jack up scoring numbers and promote full-court presses. When such a turnover occurs, the team that gets the steal gets a point added to any made basket on the ensuing possession. So a steal and a layup becomes three points, a 3-pointer is worth four, and so on.
However, what is difficult to explain in ink is that the turnover doesn’t need to both originate and be completed in the backcourt. A pass from Team A in its backcourt can cross half-court, be intercepted by Team B at the other free-throw line, and the 3D Light is still in effect.
La Crosse (2-3) used 3D-Light baskets, a handful of 3s and a putrid shooting performance by Chicago (1-2) to pull away in the second quarter and held a huge lead until the fourth. The Fury made up a big portion of the deficit with their own 3D-Light baskets, but their inability to match free throws late sunk their chances.
With more points being the reward, aggressiveness is expected. The mix of constant ball pressure and the good-but-not-great talent resulted in a frenetic, bordering-on-sloppy aesthetic.
This isn’t a league for the purists.
But that’s actually a good thing. It’s not NBA- or NCAA Division I-caliber basketball, but it’s not trying to be, either. There’s more expression and showmanship than the average D-III, NAIA or prep game you’ll find in the area — like the celebrations of players and fans when Robert Powell and Steven McAfee Jr. threw down slam dunks. If and how much you like that is your preference, but I’ll take it.
The off-court issues that permeated the night, however, will have to be remedied for the Center to house the same number of spectators when the team returns to action Saturday, Dec. 2 against the Akron Aviators.
From shot- and game-clock errors, to rosters so incomplete or inaccurate that the public address announcer couldn’t call the names of certain players until after halftime, there were certain aspect of this professional basketball game that were anything but.
Players continually checked into the game at the Tribune’s seat along media tables, and seemingly only the referees knew when the 3D Light was supposed to be turned on — even when it was, it faced just one side of the Center — and when the lights were killed to put a spotlight on player introductions, they took nearly five minutes to fully illuminate the playing floor for the game to tipoff.
If you want to chalk those issues up to first-game kinks to iron out, that’s probably fair. But for the Showtime to continue to exist they’ll have to make the experience worth the public’s money. Saturday had imoments that were, but some that felt too amateur for the investment.