With his face covered in red face paint, Adnan Ikic stands in the middle of a group of dedicated Atlanta Hawks fans.
When the opposing team commits a turnover, Ikic leads a chant:
“Which way?! Which way?! Which way?!”
Everyone around him points to the opposite side of the court:
“That way! That way!”
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While some, or even many, might engage in some small talk at Philips Arena, those sitting in this corner of Philips Arena are members of the coveted 6th Man Section, a bastion of rabid enthusiasm — win or lose.
This year, the fans have witnessed more losing, with the Atlanta Hawks, in the midst of a rebuilding phase, near the bottom of NBA standings.
Ikic, a 21-year-old Georgia State University student, who has been a member of the 6th Man Section for three years, said it’s easy to cheer for a team with a winning season.
“A true fan, you root for your team win or lose,” said Ikic, clad in a red Atlanta Hawks T-shirt and red sweatpants.
And as the Hawks fell behind the Toronto Raptors, and the opposing team’s lead reached double digits, Ikic and others put on a full court press of “Let’s go Hawks! Let’s go Hawks!” and “Defense! Defense!”
If you’ve been to a Hawks game during the past eight years, you’ve probably noticed the 6th Man Section, a bastion of hyped-up, roaring fans hoisting the big blowup faces of Kent Bazemore, Dennis Schröder, Taurean Prince.
Wearing red shoes, brightly colored wigs and lots of Hawks garb, they wave flags and foam Hawks, and they cheer with everything they’ve got. (And yes, many of them do lose their voices by the end of the game and then go home to soothe their throats with honey and ginger tea.)
“ATL! ATL! ATL!”
“Their job is to scream their heads off,” said Drew Frank, a game presentation coordinator for the Hawks who helped launch the 6th Man Section when he interned in the spring of 2009 as a junior at Georgia Tech. “We want the most rabid fans.”
When the section first started, with the goal of bringing energy into Philips and delivering steady, reliable support for the players, there were formal tryouts. Now, the open seats are filled mostly through word-of-mouth.
Even so, each fan in the section participates in their first game on a trial basis, and their spot (and free seat) is never a given. Frank has a stable of 200 super fans to fill those 92 seats, plus about 75 applications in his inbox. He ranks them and gives preference to the most rabid fans in filling the seats. Many of them are regulars at just about every home game.
There are times, especially during a recent Wednesday night game against the Toronto Raptors, when these fans seem like an island of unwavering enthusiasm. Other times, during weekend games when Philips is full, the super fan section blends into an enthusiastic crowd.
There are a few requirements for being in the 6th Man Section — you must stand the entire game; must wear Hawks gear (the more colorful, the better); and must be able to follow the organist’s lead and stay in sync with other ardent fans.
Cordarro Patrick, who is 30 years old and a five-year member of the 6th Man Section, reminisced with Ikic about the 2014-2015 season when the Hawks won 60 games on the way to a berth in the Eastern Conference. The entire starting five of Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap and Al Horford were named the NBA’s Player of the Month for January as the team did not lose a game. All but Carroll were named All-Stars.
“Oh man, you should have been there,” said Patrick, wistfully.
Those players are gone. Meanwhile, Bazemore, Schröder and Mike Muscala remain from that team. They have promising rookie forward John Collins, and small forward Prince, shooting better in his second year. And they are in line for the top overall pick.
But then Patrick, a supervisor at Dynamo Swim School, snapped out of going back down memory lane.
“I’m actually excited,” said Patrick. “It’s time to switch it up.”
So while the Hawks hover around last place in the NBA standings, Patrick and others in the 6th Man Section will tell you this team is better than their record. Patrick pointed out: They play competitively and have shown they can beat any team this year, including the Cleveland Cavaliers, San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves.
As Ikic led a “Which way?!” chant, a smile spread across his face.
“Everyone here, we may be from different backgrounds, different ages,” said Ikic, “but we are all united in our love for the Hawks.”