By Cory Barker
Welcome to Our Old TV, a recurring feature where members of the TWTV team explore the television programs and events that were foundational to their viewer experiences.
We here at TWTV recognize the biggest flaw in a bunch of twentysomethings (and Andy) writing about television history: We weren’t “there” in a lot of cases. Clearly, young(er) people are allowed to look backwards and even become historians of a certain subject that came before their time. To do that, however, requires a great deal of meticulous research as to not come off as a naive, uneducated dolt. Don’t get me wrong, we plan on doing that kind of research and writing those sort of pieces.
But we also think that one of the best ways to talk about older television is to center our discussion on the very personal. As we see it, we can definitely talk about older television texts that we actually watched, particularly if they were formative in some way. There’s no real use in us pretending to be these even semi-objective bystanders, because that’s not how we — or anyone — experiences television. As Noel put it to the rest of us, we want to “talk about the experience of watching something and how it made us think and feel” instead of focusing so much on dissection or evaluation with this feature.
Everyone has those shows or those televised events that shaped their lives, or even changed it. With Our Old TV, we will revisit those texts in some way, and maybe spur you to think about what television did the same for you.
For me, everything started with sports.
I was born and raised in middle-of-nowhere Indiana, which obviously means my cultural diet consisted of one thing: Basketball. You can imagine the early-life details from there. Most of my family was obsessed with the sport, I had a ball in my crib and I spent most of the first 16-17 years on this planet playing, watching, reading about or collecting things related to basketball. There are certain individual sporting events that I can still remember as if they happened eight minutes ago (ones I will likely write about here at some point). But I enjoyed no basketball-related event more than the NBA’s annual draft.
Tucked into the middle of summer not too long after the end of the NBA’s postseason and before the dregs of the summer sports season takes over (sorry, baseball), the NBA Draft brings viewers a night full of strained narratives (“Potential Versus Known Quantity,” “Who Should Be Pick Number X?” “TRADE,” among others), buzzwords (Upside! Length! Raw Ability!) and a slew of bad fashion choices. Like the NFL Draft, the NBA Draft has become even bigger business in the new media landscape. But unlike the NFL Draft, the NBA Draft is still manageable for the relatively die-hard fans. Two rounds, 60 picks, one night pales in comparison to the NFL’s drawn-out three-day affair that will likely unspool over the entire month of April by the time we reach 2016 if ESPN has their way.
I have been a NBA draft junkie since the 1994 Draft. I was just six at the time, but already in full NBA hysteria. My Indiana Pacers had just lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the much-maligned New York Knicks in a series that included Reggie Miller’s epic 25-point fourth quarter/Spike Lee trolling (an event that inspired one of the best 30 For 30 documentaries from ESPN). They needed that one player to put them over the top, or so I thought. Simultaneously, the 1994 Draft featured some of my favorite college players of the time (Grant Hill) and players of interest locally (Purdue’s Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson, Indiana University’s Damon Bailey). For someone who had just really begun to love and understand the NBA game, the 1994 Draft came at the perfect time.
Eighteen years later, I still remember certain moments from that night: Glenn Robinson going number one to the Bucks; Grant Hill going to the Pistons; Jalen Rose’s awful suit; The Pacers taking the immortal Erik Piatowski (RAGE) and then immediately shipping him to the Clippers for Mark Jackson (CELEBRATION) and Indiana hero Damon Bailey getting pity-drafted by the Pacers in the second round.
Ever since that night, the NBA Draft has been an integral part of my summer schedule. Between 1995 and 2003 (roughly), I spent every draft night posted up in front of my living room TV, with pencil, paper and any necessary secondary materials (list of eligible players for draft, possible trade options, etc.). I’ve since moved away from that set-up but only because a single laptop takes care of all those things. And perhaps most importantly, most years my dad, who worked a hellish schedule and was not always home at night, would make sure to be around for draft night. Even when I went to college, I made sure to A.) Either be home anyway or B.) Call my dad at the end of the night.
Looking back now, I see how the draft taught me a few things about television. It certainly helped me recognize the value and placement of narrative, considering the entire event is based on storylines and angles almost entirely invented by the media covering it. The draft also enforced the power of live events, and live events consumed collectively. Those experiences with my dad are moments I would never give back. Heck, I would also say that the NBA Draft helped me better understand concepts like race and class and how they are reflected on television (particularly through sport). And finally, the draft eventually taught me that I should never, under any circumstance, think Stuart Scott is cool and/or funny.
Today, all those things the NBA Draft educated me on are present tenfold. Televised drafts are a perfect embodiment of contemporary sports and sports media culture. In today’s media landscape, the draft’s various storylines get beaten to death weeks before the event actually takes place. There are hundreds of mock drafts out there for all interested parties to consume and folks like ESPN’s Chad Ford spend the spring and early summer attending work-outs and live-tweeting weigh-ins and wing-span measurements. Once the live event actually begins, social media makes the communal experience simultaneously larger and smaller, where every crooked tie or dumb thing Stu Scott says get over-analyzed instantly.
But before I sound too much like a grandpa telling you to get off his lawn, let me say that while the NBA Draft certainly lacks the suspense and magic it once had, I enjoy it just the same, if not more. I might more or less know how the top 10 picks will go because I’ve read every mock this side of a five-page-deep Google search and I might foster cynicism by participating in various mocking hash-tags. Nevertheless, as the draft has changed, so have I. I’m an over-saturated, cynical, wise-ass sports fan — contemporary drafts are my jam. And I suspect they always will be.
Images courtesy of NBA.