Bethlehem Shoals, a basketball obsessive, explains why he watched the Oscars instead of last night’s Knicks-Heat matchup.
Yesterday, the NBA had the good sense to schedule Knicks-Heat—a marquee game even before the Carmelo Anthony trade that everyone saw coming, and regardless of the Knicks’ recent slide—at the same time as the Oscars. In years previous, this would have been an all-too-gendered line in the sand: dudes on one side, chicks on the other. But in our enlightened era, a real man’s man can, without embarrassment, snark away at the Oscars, even going so far as to take in some of the red carpet coverage. There’s a good chance your favorite comedian, sports pundit, or rapper will be doing so, if not on Twitter, then certainly the morning after.
We live in magical days, where stereotypes, false binaries, and prejudice are falling away by the second. Life is a spectrum. Lots of my best friends have Oprah posters. Everybody wants it all, and that’s not a bad thing. Even if Carmelo Anthony hadn’t been dealt to the Knicks, making Sunday’s matchup with Miami’s Big Three into must-watch basketball, the NBA still would appear to have made a huge blunder. When it makes less sense than ever to schedule sports against “ladies’ programming” like the Oscars, ESPN did exactly that. Considering the relatively worldly, or at least ADD-riddled, audience that pro basketball tends to draw, they might simply be running behind the times.
However, instead, it’s almost an acknowledgment of the channel-surfing, DVR-ing, Web-streaming tech climate that shapes the way in which we consume sports. We have long pretended to watch every game, or at least have a working knowledge of every important team and player in a league (or two, or three). Now, through the latest in electronic wizardry, we can easily take in all that necessary research, like technology had decided to call the male race’s bluff. What’s more, we can skip over commercials, greatly reducing the viewing time and, again, making it possible to fit the maximum amount of sports into one day—or, in some of our cases, into some semblance of a life outside of balls and sticks.
What’s starting to dwindle, though, is that since of aura, of a real event, that once seemed so essential to any game that mattered. Certainly, our definition of “mattered” has become impossibly broadened because, well, there’s no excuse anymore. And, at the same time, with all matters of personal scheduling rendered fluid, sports can no longer lock down three hours of your day, no questions asked. Those who know and love you are aware of this. Thus, you pretty well have to be ready to make a case for the screaming importance of three Sunday NBA games (Christmas will never be the same again, incidentally), or find yourself offering to tape one and watch later. Maybe in football every game is an Event. But in any season longer than four months, with anything less than the fate of Western consciousness on the line, all things are now negotiable.
That’s where the Oscars—an undeniable Event—intervenes. Or that show you watch with your wife every Thursday. I can’t say I take any joy in seeing sports stripped of this near-mystical quality, since broadcast was always supposed to replicate the live experience. What’s more, the NBA’s tape-delay days never cease to amuse. Are we really now bringing them back, quite willingly, just to see celebrities take home awards for movies we either hated or didn’t bother to see? The answer is yes. Sports have acknowledged that, unless it wants to live in the past, keep men in a bubble-encased couch, and turn them all into raging liars, it must compromise its broadcast values. Some of it is out of their control; the NBA did not invent DVR. However, advances like League Pass were clearly invented as much with the omnivore as the deathless homer in mind.
The one trend that really goes against this grain, and has taken root most frantically in NBA circles, is Twitter. Twitter isn’t simply a spoiler—”so and so hit the game-winner.” It is up-to-second commentary, analysis, and snark, from people who almost certainly know more than you do. To ignore a game, you must effectively ignore Twitter, which means disabling large chunks of your daily phone/laptop/tablet interface or routine. What’s more, the updates are often without any context, meaning that, if you were to return to them when it came time for you to watch, it’s unlikely you could ever recreate the experience of real-time bombardment that comes with Twitter. Twitter, almost accidentally, has turned every game into an Event, or at least a thing that only exists to the fullest in real time.
To some degree, Facebook and any form of Internet publishing push in this direction, too. The Web is, despite itself, at war with television-on-steroids—one looking to suspend temporality, the other to make it more crucial than ever. I often find myself struggling to catch up to my Twitter timeline when, caught up in the moment, I rewind to watch a play twice. Or maybe that should be “stuck on a moment.”
That’s where you just have to make one of those real-life-driven decisions. Will I watch Knicks-Heat because its outcome makes or breaks anyone’s seasons? Or just to see how it plays out? And really, is that more important than sharing a non-sports marathon of televised silliness with folks who, mercifully, probably don’t want to hear about the ’Melo trade for more than a few seconds? Twitter may compel us to be more sports-obsessive than ever, flipping between channels and making sure we’re in the figurative place to be. DVR, on the other hand, allows us some much-needed breathing room. Sports don’t always have to come second. But realistically, sometimes they always will. And if it doesn’t during the Oscars, well, you and I don’t have much in common.