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Dec. 5, 2019
This paid piece is sponsored by the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
Mike Luken has been going to Skyforce games for all of the franchise’s 31 years, and for that whole time, he has been right on the floor. For many of those years, he has been next to the coach at courtside.
He didn’t need a background in basketball or a job as an assistant. He didn’t even have to pass the players towels or hand them water bottles.
All Luken had to do was buy a ticket. A good ticket, mind you, but nothing more than that.
It’s a way of experiencing basketball that has always appealed to Luken, a real estate agent in Watertown who makes it to almost every home game.
“I enjoy being there for a tie game,” Luken said. “Let’s say there is four seconds left and there I am, right beside the coach. I’m sitting and listening to him draw up a play about who is going to get the ball. That’s a huge adrenaline rush to me. I can see the play develop or fall apart.”
The Skyforce have seats right on the court available for every game, though they’re in high demand. Season tickets range from $1,350 to $2,000, with single game tickets ranging from $75 to $100.
Patrons are almost in the game themselves from these spots, with sights and sounds that make it almost impossible to take your mind off the action for more than a few moments.
“We like to have people try them out,” said Skyforce president Mike Heineman. “It might take one or two games, but they’re usually in love with them, and they usually end up buying them from there.”
Kirk Zimmer estimates he has been courtside about a quarter-century. The retired health care executive has always been a Skyforce fan and a basketball fan. Like others who sit in the same area, the closer you are, the better it is.
“There was a point where I just said, ‘Hey, this is pretty good entertainment for Sioux Falls, South Dakota,” Zimmer said. “The level of players is spectacular. We’re watching athletes out there who are one step away from the NBA. It’s a very high level of entertainment.”
With Luken and Zimmer being prime examples, the Skyforce have a large number of repeat customers for their best seats.
“We have lots of people who’ve been with us in those seats for 10 or 15 years,” Heineman said. “So we don’t have a lot of openings, and when we do have some, we tend to get rid of them pretty quickly.”
The courtside experience includes a wait service staff that has to pay attention. It is an intriguing part of the charm for those who watch games at ground level.
“Sitting courtside at a basketball game might be the most unique experience you can have at a sporting event,” Heineman said. “You’re basically in the action. You can have a player land on your lap. You get to hear everything the players are saying and everything the coaches are saying, for better and for worse. You actually feel like you’re in the game. It’s much different than if you’re even one row back.”
For Luken, any reference to the quality of the view is connected with a long list of memories, many of which involve his daughter. Jennifer was by his side for a great percentage of the time in the early years and became a fixture, like her father, at Skyforce games.
“The second year, I started taking her to every game,” Luken said. “She was in second grade, and I was a single parent. We went to every single game together except the Christmas night game because we’d spend that in Arizona.”
Down on the floor, loyalty is a prevailing theme.
“I’ve used the term before when I’m talking with people about this – it’s ‘the Skyforce family,’ ” Zimmer said. “It really is part of this franchise. You see fans year after year who are season ticket-holders. Everybody looks forward to that first game of the year, and by the end of the year, hopefully you’re talking about the playoffs. It brings people together. It’s a great thing for cold winter nights in Sioux Falls.”
Jennifer Luken, now grown up and living in the Chicago area, is definitely part of that family. She missed only one game through her second year of college, Luken said.
While in high school, she opted to stay home one night and go to the state wrestling tournament, which was in Watertown that year.
“She called me every five or 10 minutes,” Luken said. “She said it would never happen again.”
He bought his first season tickets before the franchise had ever played a game. The bond since then has gotten stronger. Through ownership changes, league changes and even a change in venues, he has always had his feet on the floor.
“When Bob Correa, Greg Heineman, Roger Larsen and Tom Walsh bought the team in 1993, it really became a family event,” Luken said. “They would all talk to us. There would be nights where I’d get home from work at 5:30, and I’d tell Jennifer, ‘It’s cold and windy and the game is on TV. Let’s just stay home and watch it.’
“And she said, ‘Dad, they’re expecting us. We have to go.’ ”
Her father is still taking that advice.
“I still get excited about being there,” Luken said. “I have no plans to give up these tickets.”
“Sitting courtside at a basketball game might be the most unique experience you can have at a sporting event.” It’s a totally different and memorable way to watch a game. After reading this, we want these seats!