This was going to be a column about how NBA TV is a sports programming network of the future.
Sadly, however, that isn't quite the case.
Not only has the channel been around for the better part of a decade now, but what it has really done is everything that other networks should have been doing over these past few years.
So perhaps calling it the basketball programming network of common sense would be more logical. If that's the case, so be it.
No matter the label, NBA TV makes watching a basketball game even more of a pleasure than it usually is.
And here's the catch: The formula for success? It's as super-duper-simple as one can imagine.
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Step One: Let the local yokels tell the story. The cool part of showing out-of-market games is that it allows fans around the country to see teams that they don't normally get a chance to watch. It follows logically that the national audience probably hasn't heard much of the home team's announcers either. Sure, it's more likely than not that the announcers are going to be homers and might not always be as objective as possible, but that comes with the territory. Broadcasters in each city provide unique flavors that help shape our understandings of team cultures. That the network simply throws mics with NBA TV insignias into the hands of the local announcers and gets out of the way for the vast majority of its telecasts is an enormous plus.
Objective or not, these local guys tend to know their teams inside and out. Just from reading the forums on this site, it appears that fans get rather peeved when national television announcers who don't follow their team day in and day out call games for which they come across as being uninformed or unprepared. This isn't to suggest that all national announcing teams do a poor job -- some of them are very good, and ESPN/ABC and TNT have done particularly good jobs in hiring Mike Breen and Marv Albert respectively as their lead play-by-play voices -- but that local spice is something that can only be gleaned from listening to a local telecast. It's worth remembering that not all fans have League Pass, and as such, this is a rare opportunity for them.
Step Two: Explore the novelty of constant in-game stats! Yes, it is true that we seem to have entered an era in which the average person can only be stylish and cool by simultaneously gabbing away on the phone, chatting with people online and surfing the Web, listening to an iPod, doing whatever one does with a BlackBerry (or Palm Pilot or this Bluetooth business for that matter) and watching the game. That said, call me uncool (or just an old-fashioned traditionalist), but for my part, it would be wonderful to watch a game without feeling like my laptop and wireless Internet service were necessities in order to have half a clue as to what the game statistics look like. NBA TV makes this a completely moot issue thanks its perfectly designed scoreboard graphics. Score and time are continuously shown at the bottom of the screen, and after almost every play (certainly every scoring play and every foul), a quick pop-up unobtrusively materializes above the score, providing the updated stat line of the player primarily involved in the play. Seems easy enough, right? But only NBA TV does it.
Also, it's worth noting that in the brief interim periods between game stats, the NBA TV crew is hard at work putting together some of the most obscure stats imaginable for our viewing pleasure. Want to know your team's record in games played on Tuesday nights during daylight savings when there is a quarter moon out? Or your team's record the night before a crucial presidential debate? NBA TV is the place for you.
(Okay, it's more like "record on Wednesdays" and "out-of-conference road record," and where your power forward ranks in in the league in steals, but you get the picture.)
As an aside, the in-game stats also make NBA TV the optimal channel on which to view a game in a restaurant or bar. Generally speaking, sports bars are going to be a tad noisy, and more often than not, unless the game you're looking to watch is the marquee game of the evening in the building you're in, you'll be going without sound. Some of these places just keep the music blaring all night in the first place, meaning no game is getting sound. When one is buried in the Midwest for instance, no NBA game is ever the marquee game of the evening. Chances are, we're looking at four to six tries of explaining to waitresses and hosts what exactly NBA TV is (that it's different from the vaunted "NBA package," and that yes, their restaurant does have it because I'm the one NBA fan who shows up all the time and just ran through this whole song and dance a week ago and several times last month) before any progress is made, which means getting to the restaurant nearly half an hour prior to game-time is a must. Watching a game with no sound is frustrating enough, but it would be even more of a problem with no concept of statistics, including foul trouble, which is always of great significance. The in-game stats make this far less of a concern.
Step Three: Underscore the "NBA" in NBA TV. This is the network of the entire Association, which means that the game that is on the screen is not the only game of consequence. NBA TV updates scores from around the league every few minutes while that night's game is on, and the bottom-line ticker is always running during commercials. Further, halftime reports consist of extended highlights of other these games followed by nearly full sets of box-score lines for the top five performers in each team. It's a simple concept, but it allows NBA TV to make a quantum leap over other channels as far as how much information is imparted to the viewers.
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There you have it, folks: three easy steps to creating a very effective basketball programming network. It's simple, and it works. If only it were available to a greater percentage of this country, fans around the nation would be all set.
It is, however, worth disclaiming that NBA TV could be subject to some significant changes in the years to come. The league has agreed to sell the network to Turner Sports, meaning that the same folks who run TNT will be taking charge. Further, a stipulation in Marv Albert's latest contract extension with TNT notes that he will be calling games for NBA TV starting at some point in the next few seasons once the Turner takeover is complete.
But those are bridges to cross when we come to them (for all my local broadcasting love, extra Marv generally isn't a bad thing).
For now, it's worth enjoying beautifully executed game telecasts while we can.