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Disorder on the Basketball Court

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Disorder on the Basketball Court

The Wall Street Journal December 7, 2019
OtherCulture & Society

The NBA tries too hard to keep Brooklyn fans entertained.

Brooklyn, N.Y.

There’s almost nothing I wouldn’t do if one of my children asked. When it was a Boston Celtics game the day after Thanksgiving, with grandchildren coming along, I didn’t hesitate for a moment to accept. Though I might be reluctant to do it again.

Certainly Boston’s loss, 112-107, colored my experience. But the real problem was that the game itself was made to seem incidental, lost in a tsunami of nonstop, high-volume canned chants and a variety of sideshows—all seemingly based in a fear that fans would become bored.

My baseline comparison is my memory of baseball games with my father at the now-demolished Cleveland Municipal Stadium, on the Lake Erie waterfront. The scene was quiet for long periods, but when there was a chance for the Indians to rally, fans would spontaneously begin rhythmic clapping, urging them on. During the lulls, I learned how to keep score.

One cannot overstate the difference watching the Celtics play at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Team introductions come with oversize action shots on a looming central screen, as spotlights crisscross the darkened arena. When the Nets have the ball, electronically generated clapping cues the fans. When the Celtics have it, the speakers boom a high-volume “defense” chant.

Pauses in the game immediately cue other entertainment. The “Brooklynettes” take over the court to dance. T-shirt cannons shoot up toward the balconies. Random candid shots of fans appear on the overhead screens. An on-court emcee leads a trivia game. There are contests for kids. It’s very loud—and nonstop.

It’s largely harmless, I suppose. (Although I don’t love my granddaughters being exposed to the hypersexualized dance and dress.) The problem is its implicit assumption that, absent continuous stimulation, everyone will lose interest. This is the opposite of what I always hoped sports would teach my sons: the value of strategy. One must learn to concentrate on what is happening in the moment and use it to discern what might happen next.

There was one highlight of the evening. A few days earlier, the Nets had played the Celtics in Boston. Fans there had sent a message to the former Celtic star Kyrie Irving, who’d deserted for Brooklyn, by chanting “Kyrie sucks!” Not to be outdone, the Nets fans in the seats around us serenaded Mr. Irving’s high-scoring replacement, Kemba Walker, when he went to the foul line: “Kyrie’s better!” As a Celtic fan I don’t agree, but it was good to see that real fans remain. Let’s stop drowning them out with canned nonsense. 

This piece originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal (paywall)


Howard Husock is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the new book, Who Killed Civil Society? 

Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images