I really love the game of basketball. It has always been my favorite sport to play. You can shoot hoops alone or with a crowd. You can watch really tall and talented men and women play the same game - ok, maybe not quite the same game - and see the most extraordinary athletes perform at world-class proficiency. The game is entertaining, creative, imaginative, and even balletic. Somehow it always comes down to the last few moments before victory is assured. One-on-one or five-on-five, basketball is a truly American sport that has spread worldwide. It is the world's second most favorite spectator sport, topped only by "the beautiful game," which we call soccer. When I taught sports law to European graduate students on my sabbatical, they all wanted to know whether I knew Michael Jordan personally. I assured them that while I did not know him personally, I knew his game and knew it well.
These plaudits are meant only by way of introduction to the truth about today's NBA "experience." Attending an NBA game has become a very loud and mostly unpleasant occasion. My local five - the storied Celtics of the Garden - are the best in the business, but I can't stand going in person. Admittedly, this may be a symptom of gerontology, but my eardrums just can't take it. Fenway Park is fine - we provide most of the entertainment ourselves singing "Sweet Caroline" before the bottom of the eighth inning. Gillette Stadium may have too much testosterone floating around, but an occasional visit is palatable. My beloved basketball games, however, have now become television fare only.
I was pleased, therefore, to hear the recent comments of the President of Sports and Entertainment for the Indiana Pacers. Jim Morris said, "Our fans want to see a basketball game. They don't come because they want to see Vegas entertainment. People want to hear the squeak of the sneaker." While I have not been to Conseco Fieldhouse to check out the decibel levels first-hand, the Pacers apparently have shelved the canned heavy metal music in favor of an old-fashioned organ. Could this sanity from the Midwest portend a trend that will bring some of us pandemonium-phobes back to courtside?
It could be that NBA magnates thought it was a business necessity to blast fans from their seats with recorded exhortations and earsplitting, explosive noise. The younger generation of fans - few of whom could afford the price of an NBA ticket in the good times and fewer still will be close to affording a ticket in the current recession - love that loud music stuff. Of course, we know that rock concerts cause hearing loss and a variety of ancillary physical risks to the bodies of attendees. Perhaps management thought that the home court advantage meant that they must goad the assembled multitude to scream and bellow at the visitors. An absolutely quiet arena might be disconcerting for the players, but playing amidst bedlam might even be an OSHA violation.
I have thought about fighting back by bringing my chainsaw, jack hammer, snowmobile, and leaf blower to the arena, but my guess is that they won't make it through security. I will miss the game as it is played so well by these talented athletes. Watching on television is just not an adequate substitute. Down near the floor you really can get a sense of the physicality of this allegedly "non-contact" sport. But until they turn down the decibels - or until Indiana sets the pace of the new NBA - I will save my hearing and watch on high def.