Let’s see here, the Super Bowl drew huge ratings two Sundays ago, the Winter Olympics opened on Friday with tragedy and cauldron malfunctions, and on Saturday, Danica Patrick crashed — literally — NASCAR’s party at the Daytona 500.
Yep, there’s a lot going on in the sports realm. But really, there’s only one sports that matters right now — and that’s basketball.
I thought about this on Friday night as I was driving home from a high school basketball game in Lansing, Kansas.
I was thinking, that this has to be one of the best basketball weeks of year.
League races are heating up in muggy high school gymnasiums across the country. College teams are trying to find themselves before that final push into March.* And the best basketball players in the world just descended on JerryWorld in Dallas for All-Star weekend.
*And if you’re a fan of a certain University in Lawrence, Kan., it’s that time of year when you’re team heads to Henry T.’s for a feast of spicy chicken wings and turkey wraps.
So yes, if you’re a follower of the Church of Hoops, then it doesn’t get much better than this.
But here’s the question? Could it?
So let me just say that this is going to be one of those posts that would play a lot better if this blog actually had an audience.
And right now, I’m pretty sure this blog’s readers could be counted on the fingers of Antonio Alfonseca*.
*He had 12 the last time I checked.
No worries. You see, I have lots of strong feelings about the game of basketball.
I have passionate feelings about the best player I’ve ever seen live — Kevin Durant. And I have passionate feelings about the idea that you can’t win a NBA title with your point guard leading your team in scoring. And I have passionate feelings that Tim Duncan is still underrated — and Kevin Garnett may be a little overrated.
In short, I believe that basketball is greatest game the world has ever known.
But don’t worry, this won’t be one those posts.
This post is just about a small idea that could make the NBA better — or at least more entertaining for fans.
The idea begins and ends with a simple concept: pep-band music.
If you’ve ever been to a high school or college basketball game, you know what I’m talking about.
But first, picture yourself at an NBA game.*
*And by the way, I hope this doesn’t come off as an anti-NBA post. I love the NBA. Love LeBron. Really love Durant. Love Dirk and Steve Nash and that song by Nelly Furtado that references Steve Nash. I’ve never understood NBA-bashers. Perhaps they don’t understand the game, or perhaps they were soured on the League during the post-Jordan era when the quality of play seemed to be, well… a little down.
Anyway, so you’re at a regular season NBA game between the Mavericks and Wizards. It’s mid-December, it’s the middle of the first quarter, and there’s little life in the Arena.
Jason Terry begins to bring the ball up the court, and then, you hear it…
The familiar music… “dun-dun-duh, dun-dun-duh, DUN-DUN-DUH…”
It gets louder and faster as the shot clock runs down, but it’s there, and it’s artificial, and it’s annoying.
And the thing is, I’m not sure when it started. I’m not sure when NBA teams started piping in music during games (sometimes, nowadays, it’s even real songs. Like Usher’s “Yeah”). But I know one thing. It has to stop.
Now let’s compare this with another scene.
I was out covering high school basketball the other night in Lansing, Kan., a small town a handful of miles northwest of downtown Kansas City. There’s a prison in Lansing. A lot of people seem to know that. Most people don’t know much else.
But on Friday night, Lansing High School was playing host to Basehor-Linwood, the defending 4A state champs in the state of Kansas*.
*If you want a mental picture on what the Basehor-Linwood team looks like, picture Northern Iowa or Butler. They’re the equivalent of a mid-major — a skilled group of shooters, passers and cutters with a lot of, well… let’s call it the “Duke” gene.
It was a frosty night, and there were probably about 1,200 people in the gym. But when the Lansing team stormed out of the locker room, and the Lansing High Pep band started blasting out pep-band tunes, the gym suddenly became as juiced as Allen Fieldhouse during a Big Monday game in February.
If 15 high school band members could send a small high school gym in Kansas into a frenzy, imagine what a 15-member pep band consisting of professional musicians could do to Madison Square Garden.
Of course, I will admit that I have some personal experiences that may be clouding this opinion.
If you’ve ever been a high school basketball player — especially a short one with little athletic ability — you know what I’m talking about.
If you’ve ever been at a bar in Lawrence, Kan., on a Friday night when the KU Bar Band rolls in and starts jamming on “Hey Jude” and the KU fight song, you know what I’m talking about.
Pep bands just make things better.
*A quick story. And I promise this won’t be an Uncle Rico story, but bear with me. When I was a junior in high school, my team at SM South advanced to the state tournament in Emporia for the first time in 14 years.
Of course, that says more about the talent running through our program than anything, but whatever. So we drew Emporia — the home-town team — in the first round of the tournament. And, of course, we all scoured the internet for information on our opponents.
It just so happened that the Emporia program had a team website with some highlight videos. Emporia had a pretty solid team that year — two of its starters would go on to start at Emporia State — and one of the videos included a backdoor cut that resulted in a monsterous dunk over some poor defender. But it wasn’t the dunk that made the video intimidating. Instead, the moment that made the video great took place a split-second after the dunk. Right on cue, after the ball was slammed through the hoop, you could hear the drummer in the pep band go directly in to a nasty drum solo, punctuated with a huge symbol crash.
Now that was intimidation. And yes, we lost.
So yea, it’s not just the warm-up music. It’s also the bassist in the pep-band doing short little riffs after each made shot. It’s the crowd singing along to “Louie, Louie” or “The Hey Song” or any other pep-band anthem.
Listen, I know that the connection between hip-hop music and the NBA is sacred. I get that. And anybody that wants to ignore it, well, in the words of Isiah Thomas — “You just wouldn’t understand.”
So I’m not saying that I don’t want to hear Ludacris and Snoop and Hova blasting from the speakers during certain parts of pre-game.
But how about this: We abolish all piped-in music when the ball is in play. C’mon, we can do this.
Just imagine. You’re at Madison Square Garden. Jay-Z is courtside. The Knicks are playing the Cavs. LeBron is in the house.
And on the baseline, there is a 15-piece pep band. There’s a drummer, a bassist, a guitarist, and trumpets and tubas and trombones.
And when the Knicks charge out of the locker room, the Knicks’ pep band starts bumping “Empire State of Mind” — and then you hear the crowd. They’re swaying back and fourth and belting out the chorus…
“Now you’re in New York,
These streets will make you feel brand new,
the lights will inspire you,
Let’s hear it for New York, New York, New York”
Now switch the song and imagine this scene playing out in every NBA arena in the country.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m way off. Maybe it’s because it’s a Tuesday afternoon.
But I think we might be on to something.