In The Center: Compaq Center by Nicole Washington

10 Greeanway Plaza
Houston, Texas 77046
UPDATE: Now Lakewood Church

January 2004–You would think that person who lived in Texas eighteen years of their life would visit more places. I lived in San Antonio and just recently moved to Houston. My mom lived in Houston for about eleven years before I was born and she didn’t really like the environment that surrounded her. That is probably why I never really had the desire to come to Houston until I went to high school. The first time I came to Houston it was for one reason and one reason and only, to go to the Compaq Center to see the Houston Comets play in a WNBA game. The season had only been up and going about one year it was just a baby. I didn’t know what to expect when I was to arrive at the Compaq Center. Many great players such as Hakeem Olajuwan, Steve Francis, and Clyde Drexler have played there. Two NBA championships already hung from the rafters that belonged to the Rockets, along with four division titles. Along side the NBA banners hung the first WNBA championship banner. Now the Compaq Center was home to the first championship ever awarded in the league. Knowing all of this I couldn’t wait to set foot in the Compaq Center.

I attended the game with my mom, aunt, and two cousins. We thought of this event as a girl’s weekend away. My oldest cousin Danielle lived in Houston so she was our escort to the Center. I personally didn’t like the traffic because we had to sit in miles of it, just to be able get a glimpse of the Compaq Center. Since the Center is located right off highway 59, it is not the easiest place to get to. Once we were there, finding parking was another task, but I didn’t mind too much because we were already there and all I could think about was walking into the arena filled with history. We finally found a spot and hopped out of the car. I blended right in with all the other fans that were there at the game. I wore my Swoopes jersey to the game so I would feel like I was part of the team. Walking in I felt like an ant in an ant farm with all the red that covered the parking lot garage of the Center. Hearing people laughing and talking as we walked in made me feel real comfortable and relaxed almost as if in some strange way we were all part the Compaq Center family.

Once in inside people looked at their tickets trying to see where suppose to be seated. For WNBA games they close off the top seats because fewer people attend the games, opposed to the NBA games. However the WNBA games on average draws in about 13,000 fans per game. As we walked to find our seats we saw kids pulling on their parents clothing asking for some ice cream and nachos, while their moms clinched their purses wishing that they would just enjoy the game.

Once inside seeing the crowd makes you stop in your tracks. So much red fills the Center, it looks like a big red blanket covering the seats. I began to walk down the tremendously steep steps, grabbing the railing tight hoping I didn’t fall. After tripping over a few people, knocking over drinks, and apologizing several times, I finally made my way to my seat. I noticed the two teams clearing the court to prepare the announcer to introduce them. It was almost game time and people rushed to their seats to make sure they wouldn’t miss ant of the game.

While the announcer introduces the opposing team a few scattered cheers roll over the crowd, but everyone really seemed uninterested. After the last name is called the lights go out and an explosion of noise fills the arena. The well-known voice of the announcer comes over the PA system. Lights circled the arena as everyone rose to their feet. For every name called the crowd became louder and louder, making sure the team knew their fans were one hundred and ten percent behind them. Then, both teams went to their benches awaiting the start of the game. The anxious fans stood on their waiting for the game to be under way. The players step onto their battlefield and shake the opposing teams’ hand knowing as soon as the game starts all friendships will be put aside. The players circle around center court ready to begin the game. Barely anything can be heard over the loud crowd, but sitting there in the middle of all of it made me love every second. All the players on the court feed off the intensity of the fans. As the fans’ along with the players’ heart beating fast they awaited to see what would happen next. After all the anticipation the referee tosses the ball into the air and the battle begins. Even though there are only five players from each team on the court the game favors the home team because 13,000 fans are behind them all the way. Let the battle begin.

The fans wait to see who will win the tip. The home team wins the jump ball and the crowd loves it. The first half of the game the fans enthusiasm goes up and down. Every time the Comets score the crowd jumps to their feet screaming their heads off. The comets had a seven-minute run in the half. Cheering on their warriors, the crowd stood on their feet the whole time. One lay up after another, the team became more energetic. As the run went on longer and longer the fans became louder and louder. There was a connection between the fans and the players only the two could understand.

The people in front of me, I believe, were the most die heart fans in the whole place. Their hair was dyed red and gray, they wore red bandanas with Comets written over them, Swoopes jerseys with the matching shoes. Most of the time they sat there holding up signs that read, “Comets Swoope their way to victory”. After every Comet score they would jump out off their seat cheering on the team. I had to jump up every time with them just so I could see the action in the game. When the other team would score they would tell the Comets that, “It was okay we will get it back on the way down.” If a referee made an unfair call, they literally leaped from their seats and started cursing him out. It amazed me how they talked to them like they could hear and actually would do what they said. Even though they knew they couldn’t hear them they still did it any way.

During timeouts they held contest for the fans. One concept that I never understood about this was, hey would always choose people that were not skilled in basketball to participate in the contest. It seemed to me they rigged the games. Everyone sat in the stands patiently waiting for the person to shoot the ball. Of course when the person missed the shot a sympathetic “AWW” goes through the crowd. I know what they really were thinking was, if that was me I would have made the shot. The ultimate award, which happens during the breaks, occurs when they take the cameras to the crowd. Everyone loses their sense of mind and just started to act crazy, so they would stand out from everyone else. I had the honor of being seen on the screen during the YMCA. I don’t really understand why I became overwhelmed with excitement but I did.

With just a few seconds left in the first half people began to leave their seats so they could go to the bathroom, and a few snacks. Halftime at the Compaq Center is different than others places. Here there were tons more conversions happening at once, lines seem to wrap around the whole arena, and I wouldn’t even try to go to he bathroom. When I stood around and listened to some of the discussions, I noticed that everyone had their opinion on the game. They would say things like, “If I was the coach they wouldn’t be driving right down the middle of the lane.” Also, guys and girls with their eyes wide open, trying to spot that fine girl or guy. They can’t really hold a intimate conversion because there are son many others going on you can’t decipher yours from others. Kids run around the Compaq Center like it is an enormous playground. They bumped into people spilling drinks and then you may see the occasional drunk stumbling around that people laugh at. Fans charged the souvenir store to purchase their own little part of the Center’s history. The prices are extremely high in there but I even bought a key chain to remember my experience.

It was time for the next half to begin and all the fans pushed and shoved each other so they could return back to their seats. The crowd stood up waiting impatiently for the second half to begin. When it started this time the Comets did not jump off to a good start. The visiting team had a run and took over the lead in the game. The enthusiasm dropped, almost like that of an anchor being released on a boat. Frustration took over the players’ and the fans’. Then Swoopes hit a big three pointer and the crowd leaped out of their seats with excitement. A newfound energy fills the arena. With five minutes left in the game one sat down. Everyone screamed as the Comets kept putting down the shots and completing the three point plays. Little by little the team chipped away at the lead. People became so drawn in to the game that they wouldn’t even notice if a keg of beer spilt on them.

As time ticked away the Comets pulled away. All the fans stayed until the final buzzard sounded. After it went off the announcer called out the final score, as people began to leave. As I walked outside people stood in lines that looked never ending, just so they could meet their favorite player. The expressions on the children’s faces said more than any words ever could. What seemed like such a simple act for the athletes made the whole year for them. I can’t even lie; if I had the chance to meet one of my favorite basketball players I would do the same thing. The people that did not stand in line walked outside to their cars saying, “We played a good game, “ almost like they played in the game, but in away this is true. The fans are as much part of the Comets organization as the Compaq Center and the players. This visit to the Compaq Center made me feel like I had taken part in something bigger than I could imagine. In a way everyone along with myself at the game were now part of the history in the Compaq Center.



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