With the Grizzlies currently sitting last in the NBA in average home attendance, crowds have been sparse at games this season. But they've also been more spirited than you might expect, thanks mostly to the presence of a large number of high school kids who've dubbed themselves "Dem 209 Boyz."
This group of 60 or so students, mostly from Evangelical Christian School, have been showing up at every game wearing mismatched jerseys and screaming orchestrated chants as if their school were battling for a trip to the state finals.
"We're trying to get people to realize that we have fun even when [the team loses]," says Preston Albertine, a junior at ECS who is one of the group's founders.
Albertine says the group organizes game-night excursions via Facebook. One of the regulars, Nick Eagle, came up with the moniker after the group started buying $5 walk-up tickets in section 209 of the arena's upper bowl.
The group still buys section 209 tickets for every game, but on November 24th they got an upgrade. Owner Michael Heisley, sitting courtside, took note of all the racket emanating from the rafters and pulled team general manager Chris Wallace aside to order that the kids be given better seats. Wallace brought the group to the lower bowl at halftime, and, with plenty of seats available, a team ticket rep has been meeting the kids in section 209 before every game and escorting them down.
At a game last Friday, the 209'ers got more official team recognition when the organization's in-game hype man implored the crowd, "Let's raise the roof with the 209 Boyz! Olé, olé, olé!"
The last bit is a reference to the group's most memorable chant, which rings out whenever Spanish center Marc Gasol scores. Group regulars Colby Maxwell, Ian Brown, and Robert Weaver devise and lead the cheers, which are an extension of what they do at their high school games. In addition to such standards as "You Suck" when opposing players are introduced and "We Got Screwed" whenever a call goes against the home team, the group has added more Griz-specific material, including the inevitable "We Love Gay" whenever Rudy Gay scores.
Friday night, when the Grizzlies beat the visiting Los Angeles Clippers, lower bowl section 116 became "Club 209" for the night, with other "celebrity" fans getting in on the action. The ubiquitous "Brothers Who Wear Masks" became honorary 209'ers. "The Large Man Who Hogs the Dance Cam" made a special guest appearance. There was also the 209's best new feature: semi-choreographed "hoochie dance" routines whenever the team's official dance team took the floor.
"We all love basketball," Albertine explains, vowing to keep the 209 spirit strong no matter what direction things take on the court. "We can either stay home and watch on television or come here and have a good time."
But despite such earnestness, Dem 209 Boyz are not without ambition: "Our goal was to get on the news by the end of the year," Albertine admits. "Now we're hoping to get on Sportscenter."