We got our first look at games in the NBA’s makeshift “bubble” on Wednesday when eight different teams competed in live scrimmages in Orlando.
While the games went smoothly and no players sustained any major injuries, it was obvious that something was missing.
The games looked like the old Orlando Summer League games, just with better talent and cooler jerseys. They were a far cry from the same entertainment that we are used to getting from the league. Obviously, safety protocols prevented fans from providing the traditional ambiance associated with a league game. Meanwhile, the absence of key stars like the Wizards’ Bradley Beal and Nets superstars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant — out due to injury — impacted the watchability of yesterday’s games.
But there was one clear innovation that the league and broadcast partners could have easily implemented to help improve the entertainment quality.
Give the players live mics.
The players’ voices could have given us a different perspective on these moments that we usually miss during normal circumstances and we shouldn’t have to wait until a time-out or some other pause in the action to hear an edited playback.
The players need to be mic’d up during play and we should be able to hear their communication on the court in real time. Without fans, the games are far too silent. They sound more like an AAU tournament than an actual professional NBA game.
Adding these mics to key players and allowing us to hear what is going on instantly will not only add another dimension to the game, but it will help break the awkward silence in the arena that is almost impossible to ignore.
Just look at what happened yesterday. Bol Bol was so good in his NBA debut that he had to be drug tested by the league.
Wouldn’t it have been cool to possibly hear Bol talking trash to the Wizards as he recorded 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 blocks on their heads?
Or what about when the Heat’s Duncan Robinson had his three-point barrage in the first quarter against the Kings yesterday? I wonder what Jimmy Butler was saying to help gas him up?
The point is simple. I shouldn’t have to wonder.
We need to hear these moments as they unfold.
Some may be worried about hearing too many expletives during the broadcast or how the networks will adhere to FCC guidelines, I would like to inform you that networks already delay live action in order to prevent profane things from making the air.
If a few players are mic’d and they choose to use profanity, then it would simply be the job of the network to bleep it out — as they would anyway — to comply with FCC regulations. That seems like a minor inconvenience in order to create the best possible viewing experience for consumers.
Many others may worry about the possibility of teams being able to steal certain play calls from their future opponents who have significant players mic’d up.
Most plays in the NBA today are centered around a shooter coming off a few down screens or a pick-and-roll between a guard and a big to create a mismatch. There is no real nuance in the play calling among different coaches that isn’t entirely situational.
Often, coaches will call a timeout to draw up plays specifically for a situation that they are facing at that time. The majority of plays in the NBA are made through players improvising and reacting off whatever initial action their coach called.
There is no real advantage in knowing what the other team may run if the team you’re facing still has better playmakers than you do.
The scrimmages could serve as the perfect experimental period for the mics.
Players across the league competed in an adjusted scrimmage game that consisted of four ten-minute quarters as a tune-up for the NBA’s official restart on July 30. It was one of the many changes that players have endured in this “bubble.” Adding live mics could just be another minor change in an already far from normal experience.
All 22 teams will play three scrimmage games and the league will televise 16 of these games on NBA TV. There actually isn’t a better time for the league to experiment with this new tactic.
The league and its broadcast partners need to find a way to improve its “bubble” product.
It’s beautiful to see basketball come back, but there is still a void in the game.
The league and the networks can easily fill it. The players are back, all they have to do is let us hear them.