With the NBA playoffs underway, TV networks and the viewing public are champing at the bit for one first-round series in particular: the Portland Trail Blazers vs. the Los Angeles Lakers, featuring Damian Lillard, the hottest player since the NBA restart, against LeBron James, the best basketball player of this generation.
The matchup, which kicks off tonight on TNT, will understandably be shown in primetime. But while the showdown figures to be a boon for ratings, there’s a good chance it could also be a pain in the neck for the networks — at least for those who handle the audio work for them.
With no crowd noise, networks have had to lean far more heavily on production tactics to ensure that foul language doesn’t slip through the cracks of the broadcasts. That has included decreasing the volume of microphones on the court and around the rim, or muting the audio altogether for three seconds at a time. Those people tasked with producing clean audio during telecasts are likely to get a workout this week: The Blazers have one of the NBA’s most well-established on-court cussers in Carmelo Anthony.
An analysis of the Blazers’ four TNT telecasts since the restart highlights the degree to which Anthony and his teammates put more pressure on TV producers to furiously scramble to find the dump button. In those contests, ones Portland had to win to bolster its odds of reaching the playoffs, there were at least 57 instances in which the audio dropped out, either partly or completely, presumably to cover foul language.
While it’s nearly impossible to uncover who exactly is doing the swearing since the audio is generally being muted, we can still make a few inferences. The TNT audio dropped once every three minutes — or 16 times per 48 minutes — when Anthony was on the court, up from once every five minutes (9.6 times per 48 minutes) when Anthony was sidelined. Perhaps most tellingly, when Anthony has been on the court, he has been directly involved1 on almost 28 percent of the plays on which the audio was dropped.
None of this would come as a surprise to Portland, which quickly grew accustomed to Anthony’s colorful language — especially when he’s going for boards and wants teammates to clear out so he can grab them.
When Blazers coach Terry Stotts was asked about Anthony’s vocal style on the glass and the extra goalie work it creates for networks, he responded by asking, “You talking about FOH?” an acronym that means to get lost. The coach said he didn’t see Anthony’s vocal nature — or the spirited element of it — as all that unusual, saying Hall of Famer Gary Payton, whom he coached as an assistant in Seattle, was highly talkative as well.
We don’t want to suggest that Anthony and the Blazers have the foulest mouths, necessarily. In fact, there’s reason to believe that at least some of the swearing in Portland games has actually come from opponents who find themselves at their wits’ ends trying to defend Lillard,2 whose shooting range has essentially proved limitless. (In at least three cases, TNT’s audio dropped after a made Lillard jumper.)
Making apples-to-apples comparisons to get a sense of where the Blazers stand relative to the rest of the league is complicated for a number of reasons. For starters, TNT is seemingly far more liberal with its muting than ESPN. (And because the Blazers were in hot pursuit for the last playoff spot out West, they were shown on national broadcasts far more often than most of the other teams in the bubble.) Another challenge: Certain games — like the Mavs-Clippers matchup on Aug. 6, which featured 14 full mutes with the audio dropping completely for seconds at a time — featured much louder on-court audio, which made it easier to tell when the network was momentarily dropping sound to cover something.
Still, in a sample of four games on TNT that didn’t include Portland,3 we found that audio was dropped slightly less often — 47 times total, or about 12 times per 48 minutes — than during Blazers games.
Regardless of where Portland might rank as a club in on-court swearing, there’s not much doubt about Anthony’s standing. “He leads the NBA in ‘I got it,’” TNT’s Ian Eagle said after Anthony shouted during a rebound, and his voice carried into one of the microphones attached to the backboard.
For his part, Anthony — who has redeemed himself in Portland after an abrupt exit from Houston, including by hitting a number of clutch triples late since the restart4 — said his bad-word boarding is mostly a way of hyping himself up.
“For a long time, those guys who rebounded at a high level did it with a style, or some type of fashion, where they were loud with it, and they were commanding with it,” Anthony said. “So that’s what I’m doing, just trying to bring some fun to it, and just letting people know that I have it.”
If Anthony is active on the glass tonight and during this first-round series, don’t be surprised if TNT is just as active in using the dump button. Based on what we’ve seen and heard thus far since the NBA restart, it would be par for the course.
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