By Dave Begel Contributing Writer Published Mar 24, 2009 at 8:16 AM

Here's one of those questions that I can't answer for sure, but I know it's got a bearing on the future of the Bucks:

Does fan support have an impact on athletes' performance during a game?

There are really two parts of that equation. One is the number of fans in the seats. The second is the way those fans behave.

This has some special bearing as the Bucks fight for a playoff spot with only a few games left this season. The Bucks are on the cusp, but they need to play well and they need a little help from other teams to make it.

Full, or close to full, houses would help. No doubt about it. If you'd like to see the Bucks in the playoffs, this is the time to take advantage of some of the incredible ticket deals they are offering. You've got to get to the arena before there can be any kind of enthusiasm.

There are two types of enthusiasm at sporting events. One is the artificial kind where people throw trinkets into the stands, where goofballs slide across the ice, where dancers do highly-choreographed routines, where an organ or a CD plays music designed to jack everyone up.

Then there is the other kind. The genuine enthusiasm, where fans leap to their feet spontaneously over a big hit, where they clap each other on the back at a timeout when the home team has just completed a run to take a lead or bury an opponent. The kind when the defense makes a big stop on fourth and goal from the one-yard line.

For any of us who have been part of that genuine enthusiasm, there is almost nothing else in life to replace it. It's a unique, thrilling experience.

If you ask any athlete whether fan support makes a difference, they will all tell you that they love fan support and their success is due, in large measure, to the "wonderful fans."

But let's get past that standard response. What do they really think about fan support?

I remember sitting with Bob Lanier in a hotel lobby and asking him the question.

Lanier said that athletes are so focused on what they are doing that they hardly notice the fans while the game is going on. But he said that if they raised the roof during a timeout or a break between quarters it could have an impact. Lanier said that the most meaningful fan support he had ever seen was when he left the court at halftime.

"If they are really going nuts, it follows you into the locker-room," he said. "Cheering or booing. You feel it then."

Al McGuire, who everyone said was a master at manipulating the crowd, told me he really wasn't all that aware of the fans.

"I know they react to me," he said. "But, I don't play to the crowd. If they get jacked, fine. But I'm really working my team or the officials. I don't work the crowd because it doesn't really matter."

I also remember talking with Greg Koch, maybe the most articulate and thoughtful athlete I've ever known. Koch was a distinguished tackle for the Green Bay Packers.

"When you're on the field, it's such a loud game," Koch said. "You hardly notice the crowd. There is too much else to concentrate about. But when you are on the sideline, you hear them. That can mean something."

Maybe, just maybe, cheering and booing don't have the impact we fans would like to think they do.

But what sticks with me is something Don Nelson once told me. I remember it well. We were in a hotel bar in Oakland and we had all enjoyed a big dinner with enough cocktails. The talk turned to places where it was tough to play because of the crowd. Then it turned to impact that the cheers and boos had. Then everyone around the table was silent. Finally, Nelson added something that has stuck with me to this day.

"When you're home and the fans are sitting on their hands, that really gets to you," he said. "The quiet. When you're playing or coaching, you notice the quiet. And that's the worst of all." 

Dave Begel Contributing Writer

With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.

He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.

This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.

Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.