Watching LeBron Live
LeBron is a few games away from passing Kareem's all-time scoring record, and it matters to a lot of people that they watch it happen live. Ticket prices are up, and I'm making a point to catch every Lakers game on TV, just in case he scores a career-high 63 tomorrow.
There's something thrilling about live sports that's missing from SportsCenter highlights. But what, exactly?
1. I don't know how he'll do it. No spoilers! Uncertainty makes nail-biters more fun than blowouts. it's most thrilling to watch when no one knows what's coming next. (Is this shot the one?) It's a little less thrilling if you know the eventual outcome. (Check out LeBron's record-breaking shot!) But the moment really loses its thrill once you know what's coming next. (He hit a sidestep three from the left wing—here it is.)
When I worked as a scout, I would rewind the same play several times recording everyone's defensive responsibilities, long after I knew what was coming next. Such close study could be intellectually rewarding in its own ways, but the first, blind watch was always the most thrilling.
2. I want to watch along with everyone as it happens. If I don't, I'll be excluded from the community of immediate witnesses. With LeBron, we're all witnesses sooner or later, but we like watching along as it happens. Catching up is never quite as good. Sometimes even a few seconds can matter. Instant replay is amazing in its own right—high definition, slow motion, alternate angles—but it would still be a shame to be caught staring at my phone and miss the moment itself.
As a Lakers fan, West Coast games end pretty late for me. I sometimes fall asleep early in the fourth quarter and watch the rest in the morning. But even if no one's spoiled the outcome for me, it's not quite as thrilling. When I'm watching live TV, I hardly notice the tape delay, especially since almost everyone else is waiting with me. But watching last night's game feels like playing catch up.
3. I wish I could be there. This one's obvious, and borne out by ticket prices. It's more thrilling to be courtside than in the nosebleeds. But it's still amazing to be in the building, especially for a historical milestone like this. You can feel the physicality of LeBron's game and the gravity of the moment and the excitement of the crowd in a way that doesn't fully come through the television into your living room. If you're there, you're part of history.
Even when the courtside cameras show us LeBron waving to the crowd afterwards, it just won't be the same. You're not really there, and you can feel your own absence from events. Being there is special, so proximity is pricy.
4. I wish I could see it directly. It would be weird to go to LeBron's big game and watch the jumbotron the whole time. The jumbotron is bigger than the TV in your living room, and you'd still get the experience of being there and watching with the crowd. But you'd be cheating yourself not to watch the action directly. Why?
Kendall Walton argues that cameras are technological aids to vision:
With the assistance of the camera, we can see not only around corners [as with mirrors] and what is distant or small [as with telescopes and microscopes]; we can also see into the past...Photographs are transparent. We see the world through them. "Transparent Pictures: On the Nature of Photographic Realism," 251
That may be true, but some aids to vision are more intrusive than others. Watching through glasses is just fine—indeed, it may help us see the action more clearly. But watching the game through a telescope or in a mirror puts us at some remove from the action. And the jumbotron case shows just how much thrill doesn't make it through TV. Even if we see the world through it, directness matters too.
Why? Because the thrill of live sports comes from immediate connection with what we love. We want to be immersed in what happens on the court because we want to be close to what we love in both time and (if possible) space. That's why we're invested in watching what happens next as soon as it happens, and taking it all in as directly as possible.
LeBron has done so much for the game we love. It will be thrilling to watch his crowning achievement together with him and with each other.
I'll be tuned in.
UPDATE: My stream froze just as LeBron stepped back. That's how I knew the shot went in.