On Sunday afternoon, before the greatest finish to an NBA Finals commenced in Oakland, hundreds of volunteers roamed the aisles at Oracle Arena in what’s essentially become a de rigueur ritual at playoff games: the lining of fan seats with free t-shirts. Apparel giveaways have long existed in pro sports—who can forget the Terrible Towel?—but in recent years, the stands of many high-stakes NBA games have become uniform affairs, yielding the appearance of near-total fan fealty.
Of course, fans aren’t actually required to wear the shirts, which are, inherently, a little bit uncool. They’re often ill-sized and frequently bedecked with the logo of the corporate sponsor that picked up the tab for that game’s giveaway. But as John Branch of The New York Times noted last year, fans who fail to conform frequently end up on the Jumbotron before the game, where they are vigorously booed by fellow fans in act of public shaming. (One exception to this rule was Justin Bieber, the Canadian chanteuse, who was booed when he appeared onscreen in Cleveland last week even though he had put on the free Cavaliers shirt.)
Despite the glitter of about 20,000 gold shirts on Sunday, the Golden State Warriors did not prevail in their winner-take-all home game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. But that doesn’t mean that the marketing ploy was a failure.