Wednesday, June 20, 2007

NBA: More Dramatic Than Anything On Broadway

The National Basketball Association is home to some of the best basketball players in the world. Players come from Alaska to China and everywhere in between to play the game invented by James Naismith in Springfield, MA. While these men are some of the best athletes on the face of the planet, I will need you to disregard that for this argument because it is not of concern. This post will not argue about the athletic skills needed to be a successful basketball player. To the contrary, this post will argue that basketball players, whether they are aware or not, share a kinship with the actors of the theatre.

The primary reason for such a belief is the nature of basketball as a sport on an aesthetic level. Unlike in other team sports, the crowd is positioned at a critical distance from the athletes. In football, this gives the feeling of a coliseum of ravenous fans dressed in ridiculous colors such as bright red and purple (LET'S GO RAVENS!!!!) cheering as their warriors go off into battle. Baseball is the same visual concept. Cricket puts the spectator farther away than these sports. Basketball deviates from the idea of separating the athlete from the spectator. Basketball puts the athlete and the spectator next to each other. Frequently, the athletes fall into the spectators. Spectators, to their pleasure or dismay, can feel the sweat and heat of the athletes as they hustle up and down the court.

Given the proximity of the spectator to the athlete, the sport of basketball takes on a different aspect. Along with it being a display of physical talents and athletic abilities, basketball is a form of performance. This holds true on all levels of the sport. Basketball is not just about putting the ball in the hoop; it is definitely not all about this on the NBA level where 15-20K pay hard-earned money to watch these men perform on the court. The performance given by basketball players in NBA games can be considered akin to that of a Broadway play.

First, let's look at the surface of the game. I do mean the literal surface. Basketball is usually played on hardwood floors installed in gyms. Broadway stages are also constructed of wood. Both surfaces can speak of gracing some of the best in their respective fields. Additionally, both fora are entered through a dark space. The athletes and actors, upon entering the space, are placed under the direct scrutiny of the audience. There is nowhere to run or hide. The naked emotions or sheer nudity is placed in the public arena for full scrutiny. The most obvious way in which these two forms is linked is through the usage of teamwork and performance under pressure.

To address teamwork first, Broadway casts and basketball players must satisfy the needs of the paying audience. Both do this in, essentially, the same manner: by playing their roles to their fullest extent. Once the lights go up on stage and the ball goes up in the air, the actors are in full effect on the stage and on the hardwood. In both situations, the players must satisfy their roles and present an engaging show to the audience. In basketball, this involves dunks and fancy movements. In theatre, presentations of raw emotion is more than satisfactory. Additionally, both actors have to work off of each other. The best teams are those that use each other to their fullest extent and add to the overall brilliance of the experience. The best teams make the best performances and go into history as the best.

Additionally, both forms require the actor to be calm under pressure. If a basketball player loses his cool, he makes mistakes like turning the ball over and missing free throws. This can lead to the loss of a game. If an actor cracks, they forget lines and are forced to think on their feet, something that very well may be uncomfortable to a less comedically inclined actor. This can lead to the closing of a promisingly good play due to bad reviews of the actors.

And like in a good play, the flow of a basketball game can rise and fall with the dynamics shifting between all of the actors on the court. Teams will go on streaks, raising the emotions of the audience to a fever pitch like the conflict rising in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or Buried Child. Additionally, like in a good basketball game, quality scenes from a play can leave the art world abuzz for days in conversation about the decision.

Art and sports are not dissimilar by any stretch of the imagination. On the contrary, drama and basketball are quite similar. Both require a mastery of craft and a willingness to please and create a close intimacy with the paying audience. Both have similar dynamics as well as the ability to create memorable pieces of history during their runs of course. As well, both put their performers on center stage with nowhere to run or hide. All of this helps to show that, while both attract different audiences, basketball and theatre are really not very different at all on an aesthetic level.