Sunday’s match up between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics was everything that a high rating game should be. Well, it turned out that way at least. The Celtics almost blew a 22 point lead in the fourth quarter as things grew testy between the Eastern conference rivals. Boston needed the game more but one man did not want them to have it. A heated on court war of words broke out between the leaders of their respective teams. Yet, the viewer at home has no idea what was said in the lengthy exchange. Some may not want to know or simply just do not care, but I am not one of them. I want to know. What goes on in the mind of players on the court? Boston wound up winning the game because of a combination of a dagger three-pointer by Jesus Shuttlesworth that put the team up four and King James’ less than royal performance at the foul line. It was a good game but the war of words and the minds behind it is what truly piqued my interest.
What could Lebron James and Kevin Garnett have been jawing about late in the game Sunday afternoon? People sitting courtside probably know. The press, announcers, reporters and commentators who sit at the officials and press tables probably know. If I had NBA League Pass would I know? Do they have to edit or use a ten second delay also? (Seriously, I would like to know.) I know that the game is broadcast nationally on Easter Sunday on network TV so no one will actually let anything slip by the censor but that does not make me any less curious. I deserve to know. Were they wishing each other a Happy Easter? How about their excitement for the start of the baseball season? Probably not. I am a fan of all aspects of the game with a particular interest in the mental games that players play against one another. This is something that is completely ignored during the coverage of almost any televised NBA game except occasionally in local game coverage. My main man, Bob Ortegel, is pretty good about breaking down player’s mindsets. He is one of the few.
Do the cameramen realize that I and most people can read lips, especially when the words being spoken are expletives? I clearly read Garnett’s lips when he said the word “shit.” Just let me hear what goes on between players on the court. What did Ron Artest and Manu Ginobili say to each other in the game just after that when they were both awarded with technical fouls? What did Lebron say to Gilbert Arenas, several years ago in the playoffs, when Arenas was at the charity stripe with the game on the line?
The NBA does not cherish its history as much the NFL does (remember the ABA? The NBA would rather you didn’t). The NBA does not have an equivalent to NFL Films where players and coaches discuss games in an unedited format. The NBA does not have a Hard Knocks equivalent. Why not, David Stern? Oh, wait, I just answered the question. David Stern does not want to have anything potentially portray his City on a Hill in a bad light. He does not want to let the average NBA fan that Kevin Garnett sounds like a DMX album when he is on the court. He did not want the average fan know how colorful Charles Barkley’s language was during his time in the league. He wants no part of anything that could have the ability to taint the image of the league or the commercial appeal and marketability of its marquee players.
It seems as though the league has tried to incorporate, although poorly, more of a focus on the huddle, interviews with coaches in between quarters, and microphones on both coached and players during games. Oh, the breadth of knowledge that these interviews and devices have yielded is vast, prophetic, and hinges on personal epiphany. Have you ever seen an on the court between quarters interview with Stan Van Gundy, Phil Jackson, Doc Rivers, Larry Brown, or Rick Carlisle? Profound aren’t they. “Mic-ed Up” players, now that is the true essence of what I discussed in the beginning of this article. However, when a sound bite is presented by a player wearing a microphone it is usually just that player greeting a player or an official at the start of the game. Yes, this is what the fans want to hear. Yes, it is just this type of dialogue that makes the home viewer feel like they are sitting in the front row rubbing shoulders with Jack or Spike. Oh, no, wait. It doesn’t.
The Association needs to make a concerted effort to make the game more accessible to views who want to know what goes on during play. I do understand that the has to make concessions to the FCC and their strict, puritan regulations concerning profanity but if I can clearly hear Peyton Manning calling plays at the line of scrimmage or Tiger Woods expressing his disgust at a poor shot then there is no reason I should not be able hear more in game vocalizing on the hardwood. There is a ten second delay on the game anyway so this should not be as big of a deal as the league thinks it may be. This is the most personal of all the major sports. The players do not wear helmets obscuring their faces and the audience is not required to be silent at any time, they in fact sit mere inches from the court and players. Fans can personally talk to or yell at players and the players can do the same right back to the fans. This type of interaction is completely lost when televised. Much of every sport is lost when not experiencing it personally but the NBA has certainly not done much to enhance the televised experience. High definition is nice but it is not everything. Simply allowing fans viewing games from their homes the ability to hear more of the players while they play the game would improve the connection between fan and sport making the players seem more human and increasing fan knowledge and consumption of basketball.