Sunday, January 3, 2010

When NBA introductions didn't include explosions

After a Lakers loss or sometimes just after a game where they played poorly but won, I'll retreat to our bedroom to hibernate with old Lakers tapes and DVDs. It's an immature reaction. Hopefully I outgrow it by the time I'm retired.

A few days ago I watched Game 6 of the 1987 Finals. The Lakers beat the Celtics in six games that year, a season marked by Magic Johnson's first MVP. In the Finals, it looked like LA might sweep the injured Celtics, who limped into the Finals on Larry Bird's greatness and Kevin McHale's broken foot. After two routs in LA, the Celtics returned to Boston to take Game 3 (also known as the Greg Kite Game, the only time in his career Greg Kite's name was mentioned without the words "is no good" following). Game 4 of that series is one of the most famous in the long history between the two teams. Magic hit his junior, junior skyhook in the closing seconds to give the Lakers the victory and a commanding 3-1 lead. The Celtics blew the Lakers away in Game 5, sending the series back to LA.

So here we are, moments before tipoff. The Lakers are 48 minutes away from their fourth title of the decade and their second victory over the Celtics in three years. The Forum is rocking.

Let's go to the introductions. Fast-forward to the four-minute mark for the player intros, although, as always, I recommend the old CBS introductions in their entirety. The Celtics intros are at the end of the first video, the Lakers at the start of the second.

Fired up, yet? No? Of all the things that have changed in the NBA in the past 24 years, perhaps the only thing more different than the player introductions is the length of the players' shorts, even if John Stockton never did get that memo. I think everyone's grateful that the term short-shorts is no longer in any NBA fan's vocabulary. But there's something to be said for the old-school introductions. Simple, almost understated as Lawrence Tanter - the longtime PA man for the Lakers - brings out the Lakers, finishing with the Captain, in his 18th season, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Today, of course, teams outdo each other with explosions, screaming PA guys who couldn't be any louder even if they were telling the crowd to flee a five-alarm fire, and mascots pedaling around on bicycles. The only thing missing is a virgin sacrifice.

Ladies and gentlemen, your Detroit Pistons.

I'm not so stuck in the past that I think every team should still just introduce the teams with lights on and no music. They need something to wake up the fans. It's thrilling watching the intros live. Even on TV it gets exciting, despite the fact the introductions might be coming before a February game between the Wolves and Grizzlies.

But there's gotta be a happy medium somewhere, between the chaos of the above video and the quiet dignity of the 1987 Finals. What's sort of odd is that the Pistons - despite fires, explosions and PA guy screaming for blood - still use "The Final Countdown" when introducing the players, a staple of every high school band in the country since about 1987. "The Final Countdown" probably became outdated in about 1995, but the Pistons still crank it up in their futuristic, apocalyptic intros.

The Bulls, of course, started this trend, or at least popularized it. More specifically, Michael Jordan's legend popularized Chicago's famous pregame theatrics. Ray Clay's declarations were slightly more exciting when he introduced the guard from North Carolina than when he brought out Pete Myers for the 1994 season. Here's perhaps the most famous pregame introduction ceremony in sports history (copyright Bill Walton). Even today, and even as a guy who never liked the Bulls, these introductions can inspire.

Looking back, even this introduction seems a bit archaic, as the only theatrics are the spotlight and the famous music - "Sirius" from the Alan Parsons Project. No balls of fire, no video played on the big screen showing every great moment in Bulls history. It's the most famous introduction in NBA history, and also the best. From "The Man in the middle, from San Francisco, 7-1, Biiil Cartrwright," to, finally, "From North Carolina, at guard, 6-6, Michael Jordan," it all added to the mystique of the Bulls dynasty. No one's topped this version in 20 years, no matter how high the decibels go.

Back in high school, one of our opponents broke out the Bulls music and the spotlight for the introductions. In 1993, in small-town Minnesota, this was a big deal, even if we were vaguely embarrassed for the other players that they had to be exposed to this in front of their friends and family. Usually the school band pumped up the players with the aforementioned "Final Countdown" and "Tequila." This was new. It was cool, although it lacked an intimidation factor, considering the team using the intro won only a handful of games all season. And a kid with a shaky hand - probably from the choir - operated the spotlight, taking a few seconds to find each player. A parent or a custodian or the school principal introduced the players in a voice that refused to carry. But still, cool experience.

At my cousin's wedding, the DJ introduced the wedding party like they were the starting five of an NBA team. The crowd roared its approval, the same way Lakers fans react when Kobe's introduced. Again, cool experience. So maybe we should be expanding the use of these intros in other parts of our life, while pulling back a bit on meaningless regular season NBA games. Come playoffs, yeah, break out the fireworks and the over-the-top PA guy. But the rest of the time? Maybe lights on, a subdued PA announcer. The National Anthem crackling on a scratchy tape player no one knows how to operate.

Even the Lakers long-ago gave up on a quiet introduction. Tanter still provides the PA and speaks at a similar volume level, which allows him to maintain a bit of originality amidst the league-wide screaming. But whenever Tanter retires and the team searches for a replacement, they'll probably succumb to the pressure and even Laker games will no longer be immune from the chaos that is the pregame intros.

But for now, this is still pretty good. At least they don't play "Final Countdown."


Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Jerry said...

As a PA person I cannot stand the ones who do not understand the concept of what the microphone is supposed to do. When you have a microphone you DO NOT have to shout into it. As much as I try not to, I think that most of the things I say are Tanter-like, if that is a word. If anyone is going to any sporting event to hear the PA guy those people need serious help - but not as much as the PA people who think that it is all about them!

Lisa said...

We went to the Windom tourney over Christmas and that PA guy could not even get the names of the players right. For example he would say a Fulda kids first name and his last name would be a kid from Windom. How can you mess that up. I know this doesnt really pertain to your blog but I was going to tell Jerry he does a good job.

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