The word "fan" is a corruption of the word fanatic, which means zealot or extremist.
But to call supporters of the Washington Bullets zealots would be a grave injustice. In fact, two of the three times the Capital Centre has been filled this season for games against the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics, the majority of the crowd rooted for the visitors, or, more precisely, for stars Michael Jordan and Larry Bird.
That same hostile atmosphere exists when Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers make their lone trip east, and when the New York Knicks visit Landover, attracting a large contingent of Patrick Ewing fans.
Being the underdog in their own building is something to which the veteran Bullets have grown accustomed. Playing at home is considered an eight- to 10-point advantage by oddsmakers, but that takes into account the partisanship of the spectators. In Washington, there are few such advantages.
"I like to fill the arena first," said Bullets vice president Susan O'Malley, whose principal duty is marketing the team. "Personally, it's hard to hear the fans rooting for the other team at any time, but there are Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Bird supporters all over the league.
"The Celtics and Lakers also have rich traditions as winners. That is what we have to establish here," O'Malley said. "If we start to win and add a few attractive players, we'll win the fans over. You can see it happening already. When we beat the Bulls here in the home opener, most of the crowd was on our side in the closing minutes."
The Bullets are not the only team with an identity crisis. The rebuilding New Jersey Nets, showing signs of becoming respectable with top draft pick Derrick Coleman, are treated like unwanted children when they play the Bulls, Celtics, Lakers and cross-river rivals from New York.
When other teams visit the Meadowlands, the half-filled arena is eerily quiet. Even after the Nets registered consecutive road victories over Phoenix and Golden State, only 11,000 came to see them play a home game against Philadelphia.
"We need extra tough guys to play here," said Nets coach Bill Fitch. "They've all heard stories about getting booed at home. We need guys who won't let it affect their growth.
"The difference between us and an expansion team is that we don't have a honeymoon period. If the Minnesota Timberwolves lose four or five straight on the road, they still know when they get home that they will have 21,000 loyal fans to greet them. We don't have that."
Quiz: What do these players have in common: Kevin Gamble, Boston; Michael Adams, Denver; Tony Campbell, Minnesota; Rickey Green, Philadelphia; and Charles Jones, Washington?
The struggling Knicks, who fired coach Stu Jackson Monday, have won only three of nine home games and have found that their fans can be fickle at Madison Square Garden, where support was once guaranteed.
"Our guys tend to think too much when we're playing in the Garden," said guard Gerald Wilkins, recently demoted from a starter to sixth man.
"Our fans are very 'iffy.' On most home courts, they help you. Sometimes, ours hurt you. You hear them yelling at us, 'Do this' or 'Do that.' Your focus gets caught in between and it affects your concentration on the court."
Buck fever: Milwaukee coach Del Harris believes his talented guard trio of Alvin Robertson, Jay Humphries and key reserve Ricky Pierce is getting too much credit for the team's surprising 11-5 start at the expense of the Bucks' front line, and center Jack Sikma, in particular.
"The last few years, Jack had to pace himself because he knew nobody else was going to be around to hold the fort at the end of the game. Now he knows he has Frank Brickowski and Danny Schayes to lend support."
Sikma, 35, whose scoring average dipped to 13.9 points last season, was thought to be at the end of his career. But he has increased his scoring two points a game this season and also leads the Bucks in rebounding.
"Our depth is the difference," said Sikma. "When [strong forward Larry] Krystkowiak got hurt last year, we were undersized up front and teams attacked our middle. Now we can come right back at them."
Quiz answer: They are all graduates of the Continental Basketball Association who are starting in the National Basketball Association.