Logo for the DFR Audible post categoryThis past Sunday, while watching the Golden State Warriors climb the last summit in beating the San Antonio Spurs (today’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies should be litle more than a formality), I was reminded yet again why I have never bothered to buy a ticket for an NBA game: the volume of noise that is pumped into those arenas, not just during the breaks in the action, but actually during play.

Brutal aural assaults have become the norm in our sporting landscape. For years now, attending any live sporting event meant that you were putting your long-term hearing at risk. But in most other venues–hockey rinks, baseball parks, football stadiums–the sound system usually gets a break while the game is in action.

Not so in the NBA, where “musical” accompaniment is now standard procedure while the ball is in play. There’s certainly nothing new in what was going on in San Antonio last weekend. It’s tempting to write it off as just what you’d expect from some hick burg in Texas, but unfortunately all the barns in the Association are guilty of this nonsense.

The defense of this behavior, if I read the room right, usually goes in one of two directions. One vein says that it helps the players play, presumably by getting them into a rhythm. Perhaps; listening to music can make exercise a little more enjoyable. It is worth noting, however, that West, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, Magic, Bird, Dr. J, and more basketball legends were somehow, by some miracle, able to play the game at Hall of Fame levels without a constant soundtrack–and no one in the stands seemed to mind the relative silence.

The other line of thinking states that the sound system is making the game-watching experience more entertaining for the fans. I find this puzzling: are fans really so jaded these days that having the best basketball players in the world doing their thing in front of you, live and in person, isn’t enough to keep one entertained? What an odd thing.

It’s easy to dismiss criticism of this sort of thing as just another “old man get off my lawn” trope, but to me there’s something deeper than just generational conflict at work here–because it’s easy to imagine the noise having an impact on the game itself. Consider a team–visitors, most likely, since the home team could theoretically tell the “DJ” in the press box to pipe it down–that needs to communicate on the court to play effective defense? If they can’t hear each other’s calls, their play will suffer accordingly. If that result comes from the fans screaming their heads off, so be it; that’s the nature of home court advantage. But if it springs from piped in noise…isn’t that unfair to the visiting team? Isn’t that the home team gaining an advantage that has not been, in any competitive sense, earned?

There’s a reason why the Atlanta Falcons were punished for ginning up fake crowd noise at their home games: such tactics are unfair and violate league rules. More to the point, that sort of thing violates any sense of sportsmanship.

The NBA doesn’t seem to have a problem with its teams having such a flawed view of how the game should be played. But it should. Lack of sportsmanship is running rampant in our games these days; for every example you can find–Jordan Spieth biting the bullet for this past Sunday’s Masters green jacket ceremony immediately springs to mind–it seems just as easy to find one, or two, or ten examples of a lack of character and class.

It’s this very same matter–a lack of sportsmanship–that lies at the heart of the “bat-flipping” contention that has been making the rounds in baseball lately. And the next Friday Feature will go into that debate in greater depth and reveal just what’s wrong with “putting a little fun into the game.”


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