I've got the killer app for the NBA television-viewing experience, something that will melt faces around the world and provide the league with yet another license to print money. (Props to Justin and Zidane who sparked this idea last night as we watched Game 3.)You could call it: NBA 360, or the Courtside Package, or the Real NBA Courtside 360 Package or whatever, but the concept is simple … Arrange some microphones around/above the court, and create a pay TV service that allows fans to hear the trash talk that accompanies every game. Even better: You could eliminate the announcers, and go au naturel: Game trash talk soundtrack, nothing more.
"I feel so misunderstood, KG. Sometimes I just wish the fans could know the real Kobe." [Photo: Stephen Dunn]
David Stern will never go for it, you say? You may be right — today — but Stern is a product manager at heart. His recent crackdowns may seem moral in nature, but they're really efforts to maintain the integrity of the current NBA brand. Of course, certain brands continually change, and some brands are forced to change. (General Motors can't continue to be known primarily the makers of Suburbans and Hummers forever, for instance). Sometime soon, I expect that Stern will do what all good PMs do: Evolve his product and brand to respond to the market.
Why a trash-talk channel, then?
Well, my guess is that people harbor fewer and fewer illusions about what's happening on the court. It obviously ain't Sunday School, as much as the NBA wants you to believe it is. Also, even the slightest peek at the trash talk is fascinating. The one and only time I sat close to courtside — in Toronto, 2003, end of the season, against the Hornets — I heard Baron Davis and Rafer Alston go at it for a few seconds near the sideline and I was stunned: It was deeply personal, and profoundly entertaining. (It's also unrepeatable on a family-oriented blog like this). Curt Schilling sat courtside during Game 2 of the Finals, and he also was strangely compelled by the trash talk:
… About 43 times last night I heard things being said that would have made me swing at someone. These guys talk MAJOR trash on the floor, and the great part is that most of the times I've seen it the guy on the receiving end usually doesn't respond much, if at all, and just plays the game, schooling the guy who feels like he needs to talk to make his game better.
Last night KG goes to the line, Lamar Odom (who I became a fan of last night) is saying "Hey KG why don't you help on the ball down here?â€ Pointing to the paint, and I am guessing he's referencing the fact that KG wasn't down in the paint mixing it up. He says it again, loudly, KG doesn't even acknowledge him, and sinks both. Impressive, total focus.
For the record, I was asking KG the same question from the privacy of my living room.
Anyway, on a philosophical note
For the last 10 or so years, the NBA has been in a sort of conflicted adolescence. Stern makes extreme efforts to manage an outward appearance of normality, but this barely masks the turbulence beneath the surface. He created a dress code, and he enforces strict policies on communication with the media. Meanwhile, everyone associated with the league — fans, players, coaches, etc — knows that this is all window-dressing, and dated window-dressing at that. There is a deeply compelling game within a game going on; why not productize it? There are personalities, feuds, villains, heroes, and so on — why not bring them out, and create a service that people will pay for in the process?