A Noble NBA Experiment Gone Awry, by Chuck Strom

One of the noticeable characteristics of the NBA nowadays is the constant din of music, promotions, giveaways, and dance routines during a game. Hardly a moment, even during time-outs, is allowed to go empty, possibly out of the fear that if fans’ attention is allowed to lapse for even a second, they will lose interest in the proceedings and stream out of the arena.

It hasn’t always been this way. Bill Simmons, in a 2014 interview with former Boston Globe sportswriter Bob Ryan, mentioned going to Celtics games in the ‘90s when he could hear much of what was said on the court, including coach Rick Pitino’s instructions during time-outs and Antoine Walker complaining about calls to the referees. Simmons compared that experience with watching the current LA Clippers, where even with his seat in the fourth row he couldn’t hear anything on the court over the music. Both complained about the state of affairs, suggesting that the distractions obscured the subtle qualities of the game.


Apparently, the New York Knicks were listening, because in their recent contest with the Golden State Warriors, they decided to conduct an experiment. After announcing their intentions to the teams and fans, they turned off the background music and all other sound effects for the first half of the game. Fans could hear the squeak of the players’ shoes on the floor and the chatter they yelled to each other over the course of play. I haven’t heard anything from Simmons or Ryan about the game, but I would think they would have been gratified at such an attempt to bring the focus back to the action on the court. You can read about the game here:


As the article indicates, the players absolutely hated the change. Draymond Green of the Warriors, not one to hide his thoughts, called it “pathetic” and “disrespectful”, while Warriors coach Steve Kerr compared the experience to being in church. Moreover, the quiet apparently disoriented the players to such a degree that they combined to shoot only 40 percent in the half. The Knicks put the music back on after halftime, and the Warriors proceeded to roll to victory as part of the overall restoration of normality.

Apparently, even silence can be a distraction for those who aren’t used to it.

Chuck Strom

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