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Basketball and the Internet

It's hard to remember life without the internet.  It's such a large part of our daily lives that we take it for granted.  How much time do you spend on the internet a day?  The internet makes everything accessible: movies, news, sports and everything in between.  It's an amazing tool (and can be an even more amazing time waster).  

The internet, to me, marks the biggest technological change for basketball in a long time.  Football has the "yellow line" (which makes watching games at least 10x better), soccer and hockey have HD (which makes seeing the puck or ball possible), but basketball has largely been left behind.  Even baseball has the "K-Zone" to track pitches (even if it's not reliable, don't act like it hasn't changed the way you watch for the better).  Yeah, HD is really cool, and it makes the viewing experience better.  But it's not a profound effect.  The cool camera shots aren't nearly as cool as football's robotic cameras that glide effortlessly over the field, capturing views never possible before.  Not to mention basketball doesn't have the stops between plays that make replays so crucial in football (and baseball if Selig wants to maintain any facade of officiating legitimacy).

One of the beautiful things about basketball is its fluid nature.  One play merges into another; stoppages are few and far between.  The great basketball teams almost make offense feel like a well-choreographed dance.  That's what can be so annoying about the last two minutes when play is continually stopped with fouls and timeouts.  It's choppy and breaks up the flow of the game.  Not to mention, officiating in basketball is very much about judgement.  Are we going to wire players with touch sensors that can overturn foul calls?  Of course not.  Fouls are by nature subjective, and a machine couldn't do a better job (in most cases) than the officials already do.

Which leaves us with more indirect effects.  Namely, the internet.  More after the jump.

The internet has totally changed the fan experience.  Suddenly fans have voices off the court.  There are thousands of websites (you're on one right now) devoted to teams, conferences, or entire sports.  Anyone can start their own site.  Just make a Google account and you're minutes away from starting your own blog.  But even for those less interested in writing long (rambling) posts, the internet gives a voice through comments.  How did we used to voice our opinions about articles or big stories?  We either called into the radio show or submitted a letter to the editor.  Both of those are relative longshots.  Now I can comment on almost everything I read.  That's huge!  Every story is like a mini-fan discussion page, centered on a topic picked out by the author.

But the fan voice doesn't stop there.  Not even close.  Twitter took it to a whole new level.  Originally, I thought tweeting was for stupid, self-centered pricks to bask in their self important minute updates throughout the day (don't get me wrong, those people are still out there).  But then when I got an account, I realized it was more of a public conversation.  Think a smaller Facebook wall with famous (or expert) friends.  Twitter allows everyone from superstar athletes to beat writers the ability to talk to the people who watch or read them.  Since most writers use it as self-promotion, you can read your favorite new articles (and then let them know what you think).  But there's also a spontaneity to Twitter than comments lack...  Twitter arguments are commonplace, and provide a lot of extra information (and humor) than you would get just from reading someone's articles.

Comments, blogs, and tweets may drastically improve the general fan experience, but what about basketball in particular?  Probably not much...  

On the other hand, ESPN3 has totally changed the way I watch college basketball.  How many times have you ever sat down to watch a game, only to find out ESPN decided that a 20 point blowout with two teams you don't really care about has taken precedence?  That used to kill me.  ESPN in particular would broadcast boatloads of games, but I could only flip back and forth between two at a time.  But then the worldwide leader released ESPN3.  Now, all ESPN games are available, and you can watch up to four at once with mosaic view.  That's huge!  Now we can choose what games to watch (and not just between the three stations carrying games).  Or we can watch almost all of them.  Essentially ESPN added an element of control in programming that viewers have never had before.

Ten years ago, if I had told you that you would be able to stream college games from your computer in a restaurant, would you have believed me?  YouTube wasn't even invented until 2005!  That's a pretty cool development.  And it's definitely changed how I watch sports (I say sports because this season ESPN has really upped its college football coverage on ESPN3).  That also goes for the interactive aspect created by the internet.  Fandom will never be the same.