Basketball on Mute

Bethlehem Shoals tried to watch the NBA playoffs with the announcers on mute, but he couldn’t resist the urge to complain.

started the NBA playoffs with the volume all the way down. Some friends of mine skimp on first-round action, or may tune in only for second halves early on. I realized that, more than anything else, what wears me down every spring—and can leave me exhausted by the time of the Finals—is the announcers.

Never is this worse than in the early rounds, when the glut of games means that anyone with the slightest game experience gets a chance to shine. Sadly, Charles Barkley is considered too valuable in the studio, but Chris Webber gets to show off his combination of exuberance, intelligence, and inexperience. There’s the annual debate over Doris Burke, the love-her-or-hate-her color commentator who also works the NCAA and WNBA.

Or, in the case of the first game of the 2011 postseason, Jon Barry. As the Bulls and Pacers prepared to get the playoffs started, Barry began spouting off. So I turned the sound off and put on a record. A huge weight lifted off of my shoulders.

Granted, without the noises of the game and the crowd, I missed out on some of the atmosphere—which at any given time, is more of a factor than you think. I wondered whether the NBA would ever experiment with an announcer-less telecast, like the CFL. Certainly, it wouldn’t be in the playoffs, when so many casual fans need to be brought up to speed on the season they’ve skipped out on. But basketball doesn’t need a narrator to pass the time like baseball, or an instructor like football.

When I first got back into the NBA in college, it was through the seemingly random pastime of watching games with Ornette Coleman as the soundtrack. To use a less precious example, when basketball is on in a noisy bar—whether there’s a jukebox or a band playing—you’ll still see eyes trained on the screen.

That was my frame of mind, and for about an hour, everything was golden. I would rather listen to sixties soul than Jon Barry’s voice any day. I watched the game unfold on its own terms, without some jackass distracting me. It was one of those pure moments where you remember why a sport captivates you. The game is the game; everything else is just distortion.

But then, after a while, I started to get antsy. Something was missing. It wasn’t that I wanted Jon Barry to make me suffer and generally ruin my morning. I began to realize that, like a fan shouting from the stands, bemoaning announcer mishaps is an essential part of what I do when I watch basketball. It wears me out, and yes, it’s self-congratulatory and elitist. Barry or Reggie Miller are idiots, at least when it comes to making the game interesting.


Am I a bad person for needing that? Shouldn’t it just be enough to enjoy the play of Derrick Rose or Darren Collison?

Twitter, not Jon Barry or Reggie Miller, is on the call for me. I’ve come to expect it. Part of the bargain, though, is taking vicious shots at the so-called professionals.

I’m going to take the easy way out and blame everyone but me. More specifically, this is all Twitter’s fault. I’m sure I used to yell at announcers before Twitter existed. I most certainly managed to watch basketball without it. What Twiter has done, though, is create a virtual community that’s present for any big game. Although I often prefer to watch games alone (in the real world), there’s a loose crew of NBA-inclined Twitter users who don’t miss an opportunity.

Whether it’s a brilliant play, an odd-looking fan, or an announcer gaff, someone—if not everyone—weighs in, giving it his best one-liner and creating a viewing environment that’s part gab-fest, part surrogate commentary. Twitter, not Jon Barry or Reggie Miller, is on the call for me. I’ve come to expect it. Part of the bargain, though, is taking vicious shots at the so-called professionals.

Maybe it’s an inferiority complex, or typical snotty, anti-establishment posturing. At the same time, it’s also exactly the impulse that got most of us writing about the NBA in the first place. It wasn’t just that we had something to say, it was that we wanted to call out the network goons for poisoning the minds of fans and ruining the game we love.

So yes, I need hate as much as I need to love to really get into my favorite sport. That may prove that I’m an awful person. Or maybe it’s about the level of investment I have. There’s a responsibility there—and great material—that simply need my attention more than my stereo does. It will be there. Twitter, though, moves at a mile a minute.

—Photo devinlynnx/Flickr

About Bethlehem Shoals

Bethlehem Shoals is the NBA Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. He was a founding member of and is currently raising funds for his new project, The Classical.

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