My Surreal Night Watching the Only Damn Sports on TV
These are strange times we’re living in.
No sports. None. Arenas are closed. NBA and MLB Players: relaxing at home. Hell, your local basketball rims are blocked off with tape and sticks. And right now, when the only thing there is to do with much of your day is post crap online, look up anxiety-inducing information, play Animal Crossing, and stream whatever slop the Netflix algorithm is demanding you consume, a midday baseball game you sorta engage with as you take a power nap sounds like the most delirious pleasure imaginable.
And they’re not coming back anytime soon. Arenas packed with people right now? Absolutely not. Even games with no fans would probably necessitate too much risk, and also present headache-inducing logistical challenges. The leagues are trying to figure something out—and failing. Some of their ideas are completely insane, like, for instance, sending all MLB players to a desert prison where they battle out the season in complete isolation from anyone else in the world, like Escape from New York but with more baseball. As much as I wanna see Yasiel Puig in an eyepatch, c’mon man, that’s not gonna happen.
This situation has left sports broadcast networks like ESPN with a powerful thirst for something, anything to air. Old games, sure, they can show those. Documentaries about Michael Jordan they were planning on airing this summer, cool. Esports! Those are the future, right? ESPN2 aired an NBA 2K tournament between NBA players (Devin Booker won, kind of embarrassing). SNY, who air Mets games, broadcast an MLB The Show game simulation and had their announcers call it. It’s a strange time.
And so, the Worldwide Leader in Sports™ put their heads together, closed their eyes, and said: What is a game that you can play at home, easily film, compete in without needing to be in the same room as your opponent, and where something interesting might happen?
They landed on HORSE, the famous basketball trick-shot game.
HORSE, while fun to play, doesn’t get a lot of burn on television. They used to air competitions on CBS back in the ‘70s (Pete Maravich was a master) and they tried to bring it back in the late aughts, but it’s just too weird and inert for television; an inherently social game where the audience is held at arm’s length.
But in the world of the blind, one-eyed Yasiel Puig, hunting for the president of baseball is king. So ESPN got a few current NBA players, retirees, some WNBA talent, had them set up on their home courts, recruited their families to pull out their camera phones, booted up the ol’ live video compiler, and they made it happen—the only televised sporting competition you can possibly put together where people won’t interact with people outside of their houses, on account of a deadly virus storming through our population.
It was the most avant-garde piece of sports programming I’ve ever seen. Players played on wildly divergent home basketball setups. Some were working with high-end spaces. Paul Pierce has a half court with a huge CELTICS logo somewhere in the hills of Los Angeles. Chauncey Billups is sporting a more subdued court in Denver. Bulls forward Zach LaVine has a batting cage and a half court, while Jazz guard Mike Conley has an indoor court with hardwood somewhere in his basement, I presume.
Other players were working with a your friend’s hoop we shoot around on after school home setup. Hawks guard Trae Young, who insisted his hoop was set to 10 feet, just kind of has a hoop in the driveway. Tamika Catchings, the retired Indiana Fever forward who is about to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, has a hoop in hers that doesn’t quite extend to three-point range. Allie Quigley’s hoop was sitting above a cobblestone path (not ideal).
But hey, no matter what kind of hoop they were shooting on, they were there to compete. In the first round, Billups took advantage of his superior setup and overcame an early lead from Young by taking longer shots on his court that necessitated Young shooting from the dirt. Both players showed a complete lack of concern for the audience at home, eschewing any and all entertaining trick shots, which was frustrating. But the competition really kicked into gear when Conley faced off against Catchings. Conley dominated the Hall of Famer and made himself the man to beat in Thursday’s semifinals, simply by being ambidextrous—the ultimate HORSE weapon. It was a sight to see.
Paul Pierce tried to string some fancy combinations together to get LaVine, but unfortunately for him, it was raining at his house and he just couldn’t make it happen. His son wandered around the court in a Jackson Pollock-looking hoodie while he wore a vest, long-ass Adidas track shorts and Nikes, and missed a bunch of jump shots. It was the most Paul Pierce thing I’ve ever seen.
Chris Paul was the star of the show. He lost to Quigley, one of the game’s premier shooters, but not before he yelled “YOU SUCK, CHRIS!” and spent his entire round gently berating himself every time he missed. It was a stark window into the mind of one of the NBA’s most competitive dudes—a not-really-six-foot-tall guard who made himself into a Hall of Famer by pure force of will.
All in all, I was entertained for around two hours by this low-stakes basketball skills competition in the middle of a global pandemic. One note: There has to be a way to make sure it doesn’t look like dog shit, right? ESPN put this together by pulling the lagging video streams straight off the iPhones of these players’ families, which I suppose you need to do to make the competition work in real time. But maybe for the broadcast they could edit it into a watchable video product so that me and the millions of other HORSE-heads out there aren’t watching three skippy, laggy videos mushed together like a particularly bad-looking Twitch stream on national television? Maybe we can send them a nicer camera to use? I mean, disinfect it first, of course.
Was it sports? No, not really. It was pretty close to sports, though, and it was definitely really weird and surprisingly watchable. If we do several rounds of this, I could see some wild shots emerging from the hearts and minds and hands of our finest hoopers. Just do something about the video issues, ESPN. This quarantine could go on for a while and this is the only thing we have sports-wise right now.