The NBA season groaned into motion this week, and, as it did, thousands of Americans had a choice to make. For the true NBA enthusiast, few temptations loom like that of League Pass, a demonic invention that allows you to watch local feed of each and every NBA game. The price is lofty, but perhaps not too lofty. Its value to the ravenous Association consumer is beyond question.
Yet, strangely, this decision is far from an easy one to make. League Pass would seem to offer the ultimate luxury: hundreds of games at your fingertips, the mind free to wander beyond the confines of region and regionalism. Given the myopic nature of network broadcast schedules—a good quarter of them involve some combination of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, or last year’s conference finalists—a well-rounded knowledge of the NBA would seem to depend on it. Most people in the market for League Pass are neither rabid home-team fans nor slaves to the shoe corporations, and thus would presumably jump at the chance to watch the rest of the Association.
Why, then, do I and all I hold dear struggle each season with purchase? Two-hundred dollars is hardly a deal-breaker, even for a factory scab like Shoals, especially when they’ll let you string it out over four months. There’s no hidden contract, tissue donation, or other fine-print virulence, and it wafts out of your standard-issue television like any other program. And, given my unsightly investment in all things national, basketball, and associated, you’d think that I’d want League Pass, if for no other reason than as insurance. This way I could be guaranteed that whenever there was a matchup of note, in any city and at any time, I could have the whole thing flash before me, live, ripe, and opulent.
The annual confrontation with the League Pass Question forces a man to admit that, honestly, there may be a limit to how much sports he can watch. True, it by no means demands one’s full time or attention, but it asserts an almost chivalrous obligation to witness basketball as it happens. It leaves you no excuse to miss a game, or wander out halfway through. In getting League Pass, one asserts the priority of basketball in one’s life. All of a sudden, the possibility of great basketball must trump true-crime shows, Law and Order repeats, and the local news. If the rationale for TiVo and DVR is that you watch more good television, not just more television, then wouldn’t League Pass squeeze out all frivolous forms of programming?
This season will be my first with League Pass, and, in a way, I’m purely terrified. For pseudo-professional reasons, I can no longer make do with patchwork knowledge and haphazard samplings. Unfortunately, that very statement carries in it the assumption that League Pass symbolizes duty, honor, and responsibility. Having one’s television amblings replaced by a nearly stern romance is better, but not necessarily good. I would personally prefer to be guided by others in my viewing of sports, or at least somewhat limited by them. Casting off all imperatives and just taking in and evaluating whatever shows up is perhaps the only way to keep from becoming a joyless, snotty fan who feels that sports knowledge actually counts for something.
Perhaps this is why the hometown fan is the happiest, the simple man whose experience of televised sports is the most pure and unhampered. For him, there are no criteria for selection. He merely stumbles up to the altar at the appointed hour, performs his ablutions, and then lets the glory wash over his exposed skin and ceremonial garb. There is no thought of wider significance, or unknown consequence; he is the polar opposite of the morbid student of the game, and each battle is for him like his first and last. But, for those of us lost from this garden, it’s best we admit our fall and invest in League Pass.