In the world of ‘TikTok brained’ consumers and access to a seemingly endless stream of fast-paced content, the slow-played NBA is losing ground.
On our most recent trip to the United States, my fiancée and I watched several basketball games and came away from the experience with a revelation.
She is by no means a super-fan like me, but is interested enough in basketball (and sport in general) to have some insightful commentary on the watchability of our once-beautiful game.
Let us walk through some of her thoughts.
“They have only been playing for two minutes but they’re already taking a three-and-a-half-minute timeout?”
Kyrie Irving, Ben Simmons, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum share the floor at the same time in a Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics banger. The aura of the much-anticipated matchup was not lost on my fiancée, nor anyone else in the crowd. The ball gets tipped off and the Celtics go on a little run, riling up their fans in the process and leading to a Nets timeout with almost ten minutes left on the first quarter clock.
A bit of scrolling on our phones later and we’re back, Simmons and Irving flying up and down the court, leading a Nets comeback. Too much of a Nets comeback it seemed, as Joe Mazzulla – famously reluctant to call time – calls a timeout.
Four minutes played, seven minutes spent on our phones.
“Why would they purposefully stop play so many times? Where is the flow?”
We both come from sporting backgrounds, predominantly in AFL and netball, arguably the two most free-flowing sports that any person can play.
Non-stop, up-and-down action for the entirety of the game in each sport. Stoppages are minor, whether score, injury or even break related.
Umpiring decisions are made swiftly and implemented immediately, regardless of the consequence. In comparison, the NBA often has extended minutes of excruciating deliberation, only for the referees to come to the immediately obvious conclusion.
A two-hour game of AFL is played in two-and-a-half hours – breaks included. A “48-minute” game of basketball? Try three hours.
However, I do appreciate that this still makes the NBA the second-fastest American sport, trailing only ice hockey in runtime. American football and baseball might be truly unbearable at this point.
Maybe it’s the little wins?
The Deep Two contributors and I often reflect on how fun a free-flowing game of FIBA basketball is. Spurts of this style of play find their way into NBA games, causing major excitement for fans and validation for myself.
“Media timeout? What on earth is that?”
Since the teams’ fourteen combined timeouts – ranging from one to three-and-a-half minutes – are clearly not enough, some games welcome the wonderful media timeout.
A chance for the likes of the NBA, ESPN and all other broadcasters to squeeze fans and viewers alike out of every penny possible, at the expense of the sport’s watchability.
Player contracts have exploded in recent years, not solely due to the inclusion of this silly idea, but I can assure you that it played some role in TV executives’ quest for those sweet, sweet advertising dollars.
Despite this great earning opportunity, Australian viewers of the local ESPN broadcast are subjected to a rotation of five different advertisements; three ads showcasing what is on ESPN that month, one betting ad and always an ad about male grooming.
We want to see these players play. The access that we have to this sport at our fingertips is unrivalled and should be utilised in a more entertaining manner.
There is nothing more riveting than a De’Aaron Fox fast break or Stephen Curry relocating around seventeen screens only to jack up a hail mary that always goes in. Give us more!
“So, you’re telling me that they have a group of referees sitting in an office in New Jersey, yet that call took five minutes to figure out?”
The implementation of the coach’s challenge has been horrid from the outset. 90 percent of coaches don’t know how or when to use it effectively. The further ten percent often use it for cheap little wins in the second or third quarters to overturn inconsequential calls.
I think viewers could collectively count the amount of game-changing and narrative-shifting challenges on one hand.
Challenges can take up to ten minutes for referees to deliberate, despite a literal team of people in New Jersey whose entire job entails tracking these situations and deliberating for live staff.
Now we’re giving coaches the opportunity for a second challenge if they get the first correct? Spare me.
Post-game discussions about what could have happened are half of the fun, but we lose access if we continue to micro-manage the way we have been.
“Can we go yet?”
As the Nets and Celtics game came to a close, I couldn’t help but come to the same conclusion as my beautiful partner.
Everything that I was watching on TV back home became a reality. The stoppages, the unnecessary deliberation and the general lack of energy from the crowd rang through loud and clear.
We came to our revelation.
“Oh my gosh, this is actually SO boring to sit through.”
I like to think that I know the league is aware of what is happening. The NBA app itself has morphed into something of a social media clone, pushing game and player ‘story’ highlights in a vertical setting, mimicking the Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram formula that has dragged all of us in from time to time.
Competition for viewers’ time and attention is stiff and companies must do what they can to come out on top.
Fast-paced and free-flowing games could very well lead to incredible highlights, comebacks and storylines as they do in the AFL.
Leaning into human error and letting the cards fall as they may in refereeing decisions will save hours upon hours. The better team wins most of the time anyway.
We can think that they are aware as much as we like, but our hope that they’re willing to fix it is quickly dwindling.