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The ASMR of the NBA

Warning - this is a deeply silly article.

Miami Heat Media Day
Yes of course these are PJ Tuckers shoes.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

WARNING - This is a deeply silly article, and likely has neither scientific nor cultural merit. The intended spirit is jokey, not judgy.

“Overlapping with frisson” is my beat. I’m here for the frisson. For me that feeling, the frisson (not poisson) typically comes from some poetry, certain music, occasional lines of prose or speeches. Also, I confess, certain things in basketball, generally extremely difficult but perfectly executed, plays. I always thought of this feeling as something special, something aesthetic and lovely and better left unexamined lest their joy be somehow drained.

Perhaps not. Apparently one can listen to endless hours of loops of various things that cause this response in people on YouTube, and elsewhere. One can thus be soothed or aroused, or gruntled, or moved in some deeply personal and difficult to define manner.

As for some usual suspects, well, rustling papers or plastic wrap pisses me off. Low volume whispers give me the creeps (but I’d give nearly anything to have a recording of my mother and grandmother talking, indistinctly, somewhere almost out of hearing in the house.) You can, of course, pretty much give me a scalp massage any time and I’ll claim it’s for ASMR if you like.

Perhaps a part of our basketball fandom is some sort of ASMR? Or if not, maybe this is a good time to talk about how basketball isn’t only a visual spectacle, but also an auditory one? That, as we learned recently, the proper sounds of basketball are profoundly important to the experience.

Do squealing sneakers on polyurethaned hardwood floors bring you peace? To me, the sound is both intrinsically annoying, and somehow musical. Basketball is being played. This is a good thing. Of course, in the early days of the bubble we got too much of that particular good thing, and heard nothing but squeaking sneakers until they refined the audio mix.

What about the “swish” of a ball through a net? It might depend on the context, but the microphones right by the net are so good you can hear the “swoosh-rip” of a perfect shot. You can identify the singular sound of a shot that only touches the net, on a trajectory utterly ideal from a physics standpoint.

The swish sound is lovely, but would you like to listen to a hour of it? Would that bring peace to your troubled heart? Maybe, but I like it to be rare, to celebrate like a holiday, rather than the equivalent of eating a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting. (Not that I have ever done such a thing or would condone it.)

What about the hollow “boing-thwack” of a shot blocked so hard it makes the peculiar sound that only a basketball being struck with maximum force with a flat hand can make? Does that comfort you?

Honestly reader, to some extent it does for me.

What about the moment when an intense basketball crowd fuses, from being thousands of cheering people, to one entity. The indrawn breath for when a potentially game winning shot is lofted. The deflated sigh if the shot is missed, for the home team. The pause-gasp-explosive elation as the shot is made, for the same crowd. In my mind no sports crowd fuses together quite as closely as passionate, and informed, fans following an intense basketball game. That sound can describe pain, or joy, but its very intensity, win or lose, is a pleasure.

Perhaps this wasn’t such a silly exercise after all? Perhaps the sounds of basketball are as full of frisson for you as they often are for me? Maybe we don’t need a label, so much as an awareness of those little arrows of joy and intensity that sometimes come from simply hearing this silly game we love?


Basketball ASMR?

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    Sure. Heaven knows these days, anything goes these days.
    (9 votes)
  • 10%
    (2 votes)
  • 15%
    What was the question again? I’ve got somebody on youtube rustling old maps at 115dbs.
    (3 votes)
  • 30%
    Don’t forget the sound of the post-game cigarette just catching fire, as you breath in. Luka won’t.
    (6 votes)
20 votes total Vote Now