NBA.com has a cool little feature. When a game is close in the last few minutes, it sends a “Buzzer Beater Alert” to my desktop. I honestly have no idea how it is doing this. I certainly didn’t ask it to.
But it presents itself faithfully, nonetheless. This means if there’s ever a close game (that isn’t on a local channel, or on ESPN, or on TNT, or on NBA TV — since those are blacked out on NBA League Pass), I get to tune in at just the right moment and watch the action unfold.
At first I really liked this feature. I still really like this feature. But I like the idea of it less.
I watched the Celebrity Game last week. I watched it for the antics of Kevin Hart, Bill Simmons, and Jalen Rose. I was expecting a funny, enjoyable spectacle. What I was not expecting was to care about the result. And yet, as the end of the fourth quarter approached, and the score remained knotted up, I was hanging on every play.
Later that night, I found myself staring at ESPN’s homepage — the product of one of those mindless drifts from Facebook, to Gmail, to Facebook, to Grantland, to my school Gmail to … you get the idea. The scoreboard bar at the top of the page informed me that Arizona and Arizona State were playing in overtime.
I’m not a huge college basketball fan, but since the game was in overtime, I decided to watch the rest. It was a thriller that ended with Arizona State fans storming the court in double overtime — twice. When Jordan Bachynski’s arm rose out of a sea of players to make a freakish block to win the game, I was amazed.
Any sports fan would say the Arizona-Arizona State game was about 1,000 times better than the Celebrity Game by whatever measures you could think of. And I agree completely.
But me personally? I liked the Celebrity Game better, and it had nothing to do with discovering Wale has atrocious handles. I liked the Celebrity Game better because I watched the entire damn thing. I watched the routine layups, I watched the overly ambitious three pointers, I watched the occasionally impressive passes, I watched the much more frequent awful passes, and I watched Sprite miraculously save Drake’s studio recording of “Forever” over and over again.
(Just out of curiosity, I Googled this commercial to see when it was made — it was uploaded to YouTube in February of 2010. Can someone explain to me why four years later this commercial is running every five minutes?)
As the end of the fourth quarter approached, and the score remained tight, I could just feel the dynamic shifting inside the arena. The players stopped messing around. They wanted to win.
Every time I tune in at the end of a game, at just the right moment, without having watched the journey that led to that point, it feels cheap. It’s the same feeling you get when you play Madden on Rookie. You win by a million points, and it’s kind of fun. But there’s no struggle, frustration, or reward — only the mild pleasure of driving down the field and scoring a touchdown on every possession.
Sometimes I feel bombarded by the extraordinary. With the click of a button, I can watch an entire game boiled down to two minutes of highlights. When I watch SportsCenter, I don’t even have to click a button — I get the best moments from every game across every sport filtered for me.
This makes it easy to follow sports. The slogan of WatchESPN is “never miss a highlight.” And it’s true. I never miss a highlight.
But sports aren’t just highlights. That isn’t to say I’m anti-highlight — I wrote a whole column last week on All-Star Weekend. But compared to the feeling you get when you experience more than just the highlights? When you get on the Metro, find out they’re only using one track so you’re going to have to wait 20 minutes, subject yourself to stadium chicken fingers, pay 5 dollars for a bottle of water with no cap on it, get seated next to the guy who’s already 18 beers deep by the end of the first quarter, watch your team get blown out … wait, what was I saying?
Let me give a better example. Just before the All-Star Break, Lebron hit an unbelievable step back three pointer at the buzzer to beat the Warriors. If you watched the highlight, you would have been impressed. If you watched the last two minutes live, you would have been shocked. If you watched the whole game? Your reaction might be something like this text I got from a friend — “Holy FUCK just watched the heat game.”
That line sums up the feeling of watching the real thing perfectly. Anything else is just the Wikipedia plot summary — the essentials, devoid of the magic.
I’m going to keep taking advantage of that Buzzer Beater Alert (unless NBA.com decides to black that out as well). Hopefully, I won’t always need it.