Granted, Rodman didn't actually come through the door that night. The American Basketball Association's novelty-roster ringers tend to treat such small-spotlight games like early-morning lecture-hall classes at which the professor never takes attendance. But the real minor-leaguers, the ones whose delusions involve overnight success instead of late-career comebacks, come to play. ABA players are hard-fouling hustlers and sharp-shooting scrappers, balling with the eager intensity of a standout college team's spark-plug sixth man.
The Knights retain crucial elements of the region's most popular teams. Like the Chiefs, they prefer a run-and-gun pace: A recent win ended 146-122. They stock their squad with Big 12 talent; when former Missouri Tiger Derek Grimm took his rugged rebounding and Frankenstein-as-heartthrob charm to Croatia, the Knights reloaded with erstwhile Kansas Jayhawks Jeff Boschee and Jeff Graves. And they smartly start their home season against a St. Louis squad, the recently christened Rottweilers.
It's impossible to overestimate the importance of Kansas City's rivalry with St. Louis. Local rooters shell out big bucks to watch preseason football between the two teams, and preseason football games offer less compelling action than the aforementioned piano recitals. Stoking civic pride always gets the turnstiles spinning, especially when the hometown team boasts better talent. The Rottweilers (formerly the Flight) figure to be all bark and no bite in their inaugural season, whereas the Knights made it all the way to last year's championship game.
Assist-dishing guard Joe Crispin, the league's reigning MVP, gives the Knights a substantial edge over their east-side opponents. The Knights also signed his twin, Jon, creating unique matchup problems, especially if the backcourt brothers swap jerseys during a time-out. Big men Jamaal Davis and Kevin Melson also provide plenty of points, provoking lots of pom-pom shaking from the dance team Rhythm of the Knights. (For the record, any choreography collective named after a DeBarge song deserves accolades.) By contrast, St. Louis delegates its pep needs to the unfortunately named Lady Rots.
Just in case the Rhythm provides insufficient perkiness, the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders will be on hand for the Knights' opener. Given that basketball bleachers offer much more intimacy than football fields, drooling spectators won't even need binoculars to watch.
With a talented team and scores of sequined supporters, who needs the NBA? None of these cagers will storm into the stands, talk trash or throw unnecessary showboat passes. OK, so all of that's pretty entertaining. But until the big boys come to town, local hoops fans might as well love the ones they're with.