I caught myself shouting “Who Dat” a few times last week, not during the Saints disappointing loss in Seattle but rather right here at home watching the Hornets play the Golden State Warriors inside the New Orleans Arena. Wrong cheer for the team, I know, and little good it did as the Hornets gave up that Jan. 5 game to the Warriors in the fourth quarter. But it still fit the spirit of the night.

The “Who Dat” cheer seems to have hardwired itself to my sports excitement reflex, and while I’ve never counted myself as much of a pro basketball fan, last week’s visit to the arena was a reminder of how fun it can be to attend a NBA game here at home. It reminded me of the potential of these games to transform an any-old weekday into a memorable evening of entertainment. It also reminded me how easy it all is compared to trying to do a football game, on financial, practical and even emotional levels.

This was a lesson I first learned some years back thanks to a bit of corporate largesse. This was pre-Katrina while I was working for a big New Orleans bank that sponsored both the Saints and the Hornets. One woman in my particular office was responsible for divvying up game tickets the company got from the deals. Those corporate Saints tickets were closely guarded and strictly assigned to executives, rainmakers and clients. I certainly never came close to one. But Hornets tickets? Well, periodically during the NBA season, my coworker would breeze by with a clutch of them to ask if I wanted any and how many.

These seemed to fall into lap on weekdays, and when they did, my plans for the night would instantly change. After work I’d march across the CBD to the arena and climb to my perch somewhere by the rafters to swill beer, snarf junk food and submit to the audio/video immersion that goes into a modern NBA game. I never was too emotionally committed to the outcome, but the spectacle of the night, the sportsmanship on the court, the dance routines, the acrobatic halftime shows, the always-rewarding New Orleans people-watching and just the feeling of being part of something followed on a national level made it all solid entertainment.

These Hornets ticket scores were nice work perks, but that fact that someone on such a lowly corporate rung as myself had access to them spoke to just how they were valued. Saints tickets were hard to get; Hornets tickets were sometimes hard to give away. New Orleans is a football town, and perhaps more significantly, there are just a lot of Hornets home games –– 41 per regular season –– which means there are a lot of seats to fill in the arena.

All these years later, that dilemma persists for the Hornets, and once again the community is being urged to come out and support the team to drive up attendance figures. The team has a lease at the arena through 2014, but some conditions of that lease are based on attendance benchmarks, one of which is coming around in late January. Miss the benchmark, and it becomes a lot less expensive for someone coveting an NBA franchise to buy out the lease and move the team.

We’re accustomed to “Save Our (Fill in the Blank)” campaigns in New Orleans, and it seems it’s now “Save Our Hornets” time again. Although I’d never accuse anyone in New Orleans of pulling for a Saints loss, the Black and Gold’s early exit from the NFL playoffs does come along at a good time for the Hornets, who stand a better chance now of drawing local sports fans’ attention. 

If you haven’t been to the arena in a while, this is clearly the optimal time to give it another look. Beyond any stirring of civic commitment, though, it’s simply a fun night out, as my visit last week made clear. Sure, a Hornets games doesn’t have the epic feel of a Saints game, but it also doesn’t necessarily call for an entire game day spent in the frenzy of preparing, participating and parsing the results. It’s accessible, and it’s still exciting, as my involuntary yelps of “Who Dat” confirmed.    

The Hornets play Orlando tonight, Jan. 12, with tip-off at 7. There are some promos tonight too, including a pre-game concert by local cover band 5 Finger Discount.

The Hornets also play Toronto next Monday (Jan. 17) and Memphis next Wednesday (Jan. 19). See single-game ticket information here.