A New Way To Watch Basketball

May 17, 2017
Originally published on May 17, 2017 7:38 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Just four teams left in the NBA playoffs, and there are some superstar scorers, like Steph Curry and LeBron James. They really do command attention. But commentator Mike Pesca says, don't ignore everyone else.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: You love basketball - the drives, the dunks, the threes. Or you're indifferent to basketball, or maybe even less than indifferent; you're put off by it. I hear that reaction does exist. But no matter how enthusiastic you are, including un, I want to give you a gift. I want to change the way you watch basketball. It's one simple trick, as the banner ads on disreputable websites promise. Because you've been watching basketball the same way, I want to offer an alternative. I'm here to let you in on a secret - want to know it?

Don't watch the ball. That's it. Don't watch the ball. Wait, the ball is large and orange and demands to be watched. It's a magnetic orb through which all action flows and all camera angles are oriented. True enough, but to understand and appreciate the sport, look away. If you begin to look at what the other players are doing without the ball, the sport presents itself to you differently.

You see how a player came to be open or how a defender came to thwart an offensive play - grabbing a jersey is the answer more often than you'd think. On the San Antonio Spurs, watch Pau Gasol as he muscles into position under the basket. On the Cleveland Cavaliers, when Kyrie Irving has the ball, watch LeBron. When LeBron has the ball, watch Kyrie or Kevin Love. You think to yourself, he's standing sentinel ready to fire up a three-pointer, but then he plunges towards the hoop for a rebound or to set himself up in the post.

Then there are the Golden State Warriors. The only thing more beautiful than what the Golden State Warriors do with the ball is what they do without it. Stephen Curry often controls the ball, but when he doesn't, his looping twists, his frenzied machinations, along with his warrior coconspirators, is one of the great spectacles in sport. Don't worry that you'll miss what does happen with the ball. Every good offensive achievement is replayed two or three times. The glorification of the scorer will be attended to by an NBA broadcast. And in those instances, you have no choice but to watch the ball.

Alfred Hitchcock understood that if you give the audience more information than the protagonist, it creates drama. The audience knows there's a bomb under the table. The hero doesn't. You have to watch. Well, watching a basketball play but not the ball has this effect. You see Jae Crowder break free, but his teammate, Isaiah Thomas, doesn't. Ah, make the pass.

All of these plays that I'm talking about, they all have names, and the names all make them sound like con games invented by Fagin - the horns pistol, the pinch downscreen. I don't say any of this to add to the complexity of basketball. This advice, this secret, is meant to give the game clarity. Don't watch the ball, and you'll begin to understand how players get free, get rebounds and get points. By not watching the ball, you just may see the game anew.

GREENE: I always take the advice of commentator Mike Pesca, who hosts the Slate daily podcast "The Gist." And there's more basketball later this afternoon on All Things Considered. After a nasty injury to the San Antonio Spurs Kawhi Leonard, there's a debate over when aggressive defensive plays cross the line. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.