I'm still not sure what happened in Philips Arena on Saturday night.
Yes, the Atlanta Hawks snatched a 102-92 victory away from the jaws of defeat against the Indiana Pacers, but frankly, it wasn't a fantastic overall showing by the team. It would be easy to pick apart the performance from start to finish, highlighting the obvious deficiencies of the wounded opponent while lamenting the rebounding issues that led to a giant gap in second-chance points, but we will have plenty of time for that.
The reason we should (and will) hold off on such dissection?
This was a spectacle.
For the uninitiated, Steve Koonin and the Atlanta Hawks partnered with famed Atlanta rapper T.I. in launching an entertainment extravaganza for the home opener. Clifford Joseph Harris, Jr. (T.I.'s real name) performed on three separate occasions, before and during pre-game introductions, as the halftime show and with a full post-game concert, and that immediately brought a hint of cultural relevance to the table. Still, there was more.
Saturday night also brought the debut of the famed, three-dimensional projection and digital hanging scoreboard to the table, and that did not disappoint. The images cast by the system were awe-inspiring at times, and even with a late-arriving crowd (admittedly due to an ill-timed finish by our sporting brethren at Bobby Dodd Stadium), the scene was incredible.
What does it mean, you may be asking?
This, quite honestly and openly, felt like it meant something. Saturdays in November are almost always reserved for college football in Atlanta, and for good reason, as the stakes are incredibly high in the sport that doubles as religion for many in this part of the country. However, a crowd of over 19,000 gathered in Philips Arena for the first of 41 home tilts (or more) for the Atlanta Hawks, and for a few moments, the organization managed to steal the show.
Al Horford was a big part of the renaissance, especially for the basketball purist that may be reading this piece of writing, as this was the first action of the team's best player in its home building in some time. Horford did appear on this same floor in the preseason, but this was certainly a different atmosphere, and the team's centerpiece lived up to the mantle.
The big man did not lead the team in scoring, as that feat was performed by Jeff Teague with 25 points that included a later barrage, but as usual, Horford was in the middle of it all. He scored 20 points on just 14 shot attempts, contributed high-flying rebounds that preserved key possessions down the stretch, and even flashed the willingness to launch a corner three (he missed it) when given the opportunity.
Horford's return inspires the basketball equivalent of hope to a fan base that doesn't necessarily relish the national perception of an also-ran. This team was playing quite well before Horford's injury during the 2013-2014 season, and while this has been rehashed ad nauseum, his absence simply did not allow Atlanta to reach its full potential, regardless of the wonderful playoff atmosphere in this same building little more than five months ago.
Now, we had a Grammy Award winner appearing on three different occasions in the same night, a jam-packed building despite a mediocre opponent with no "star" appeal and the best player in recent franchise history back in his natural habitat. To drive the point home, this was a confluence of everything that makes the franchise, and the city, unique and fantastic.
Someone will read this, somewhere, and immediately jump to memories of a miserable off-season that centered around ugly front office dynamics, and a racial scandal that rightly alienated many casual fans and even diehards. That person will have missed the point, even if they aren't intending to do so.
Al Horford is back. T.I. is (still) performing just a few hundred feet away as I pen this, and the Atlanta Hawks simply feel relevant again. I'm sorry, but not even Bruce Levenson or Danny Ferry can remove that feeling.
It's going to be a fun and, hopefully, memorable season. Jump on board.