When I don't take MARTA down to the Hawks games, I park in a hidden little nook in the Castleberry Hill neighborhood and make the walk about a quarter mile to the arena.
Maybe it is the gulch providing perspective or the bustle of cars that gives it energy or the fact that every city is just meant to be walked, but as you stroll up and see Philips' structural support spells out "ATLANTA" and your peripheral vision segues perfectly into the skyscrapers of downtown, it is impossible not to think this city would be different, it would be better, if that picture of arena and city matched reality.
The Hawks' relationship with the people of Atlanta is not a new topic. I have gone down rabbit holes with everything from race to the need for a star to pregame restaurant options in an attempt to explain the incompatibility. To persuade the masses, I have leaned on reason and hawked access to mass transit, and, unlike so many other sports, how the NBA is still worth watching live. I have defended against naysayers by pointing out that every sport gets more intense in the playoffs, and that as much as it might pain some to admit, the Hawks are the most consistent team in the city over the last decade. We have all defended, pleaded, and argued over this topic. We have posted comments so that people will agree with us, tweeted impractically at national media types to defend our honor, and given lengthy apologies for Hawks basketball at parties where no one cared about Hawks basketball.
Yet none of that has worked. None of that will ever work. Atlanta is not reasonable. Reason is for people with margin. People who win. We are not those people. Our beautiful city is not a logical one. We refuse better transit for the sake of pennies. We flee neighborhoods only to buy back into them at high prices. We take loyalty most seriously at the fast food level. Our crown prince of the city raps in a Lovett sweatshirt. We have a damn interstate in the freaking middle of the city center! The idea that the Hawks could infiltrate the imagination of this city organically ignores the fact that we helped Sherman burn our own city to the ground. We don't do reason. We do survival here. And survival breeds culture and creates art, but it does not attract loyalty.
As I see it, Atlanta latches on to something for two reasons: if it is shiny and new or if it bludgeons the city into submission. (I am looking at you Waffle House).
For Hawks fans, the first reason is certainly out. The Hawks are not shiny. The greatest cache this team has is that one of the players has an umlaut in his name. They are not new. Their tradition is actually an impasse for trust. The Hawks are hipster, which, as best I can tell, means people think their mockery is worthy of fashion. They have never and probably will never sell anyone in this city on their product.
And that leaves us fans with one hope, one realistic possibility, that one day, the Hawks will spend 82 games beating this city down.
In the South, we not only want winners, we need winners. Long ago we realized new is better than the same. It is why we tear down stadiums that don't need to be torn down and come up with initiatives (Year of Boulevard!) instead of solutions. They are all masks, coping mechanism for a loss long ago, and to get those scars of race, defeat, poor planning, guilt, pain and all the rest from ruling our conscious, the only hope is to wear our guard down with excellence.
This season, the Hawks have already delivered 20 body blows. And I don't know how many it will take, but I know Atlanta has a number. We don't want the Hawks. We need the Hawks. Because if you want to find a common thread of a guy in Mechanicsville, East Atlanta, Buckhead, and Virginia Highland, it just might be basketball.
Yes, Atlanta has trust issues, and we need a team that won't give up on us. But for the first time in a long time, I think we might have one.
So Coach Bud, I say to you, continue the good fight! Wear us down, wear us out, and get ready for what a confident Atlanta can bring.