Against Instant Replay

The following isn’t timely which underscores its message. Life would have been perfect had I written about instant replay immediately after Ginobili and Neal hit their Game 6 hoists. It’s been a whole two days since. If you have a point to make it’s best to make it on the backs of last night’s memories. A fever robbed me of the chance, now these words seem orphaned because their reason passed.

In this business as I know it, every story needs a “time peg,” an article’s connection to some zeitgeist in the world. The Internet’s gaping maw craves content connected to fresh events. I can’t go on about Heat-Sixers Game 1 when all anyone cares about is Heat-Celtics Game 1. That would seem stale and vaguely crazy. You’d expect to find 17 cats living in my apartment.

A “big three” of present, immediate past, and not-too-distant future dominate the attention of fans and writers. I’m fine with this, it makes sense for humans to obsess over what’s going on right now. Twitter has made it easier for us to share our in-the-moments, and I’m fine with that too. It’s thrilling to collectively engage, especially when sports are involved. Sports can reach into your living room and trick your vocal cords into involuntary yelps. A buzzer beater can throw you from a chair without your legs cooperating.

These moments–the joy and the pain–bring such brief clarity to a life often replete with neurotic doubting. But, instant replay seeks to bleach these moments of their color. Nagging questions can sap the significance. Watch that controversial .4 Derek Fisher shot on Youtube, and you’ll hear “They’ll have have to review it..” amid the hysteria. Is that the kind of call you want in basketball history’s time capsule?

(A buzzer beat–oh…did he get the shot off in time? Hmm, let’s wait for the long referee deliberation)

How many Spurs fans saw Gary Neal’s miracle, and cheered while nursing that thought bubble? Neal’s game-tier indeed left his hands pre-buzzer, but I hate to think we’re hindered in honoring that shot right after it happens.

Replay was first introduced in the 2002-2003 season, specifically for the purpose of reviewing buzzer beaters. I wonder if Reggie Miller’s miracle bank shot influenced this decision. It happened back in Spring of 2002, in a counterintuitively thrilling, deciding Game 5 between the Nets and Pacers. Down three, Miller caught a pass with less than a second left. He drained from deep and celebrated wildly–seeing as how the refs had given their signal. I was convinced the buzzer beat him, but merely smirked, saying, “Reggie got away with one there.” Two overtimes later, the Nets secured victory in the first step towards a Finals trip.

The announcing call rides with the surprise of that incredible shot.

Since that season, the NBA has expanded replay’s scope, with plans for further expansion. The recently infamous Perkins goaltend resulted in more drum beating on replay’s behalf. Many are advocating for reform because they favor “getting the call right.” I certainly understand this perspective, and used to share it. But, I’ve come to believe that more people should be asking whether “getting the call right,” is worth constantly going back in time.

Replay encroachment has all but ruined football for me. Not only do I cringe in anticipation of a flag, but I grimace at the possibility of interminable coach’s challenges. So much NFL action is about what the referees declare to be the play, long after the play has happened. A sport has given way to a dragging appeals process, and even that hasn’t eradicated error. Also, the very question of “Is that enough to overturn?” is more open to interpretation than Roger Goodell would like to admit.

I would hate to see the NBA go the way of the NFL’s retroactive reffing. I do not love how basketball is called, but there are non-camera alternatives. Perhaps the NBA could implement a more open grading process for officials? Perhaps David Stern could hire refs who aren’t older than the sport itself?

I can accept the rare blown call from the best available reffing talent, trying their best to get it right. I’m just not sold on how fixing that margin of error is worth, “They’ll have have to review it..”

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