No such thing as a slam dunk: Sport as unpredictable, undeniable reality television
by Doug Battema — Western New England University
April 06, 2007 – 09:00
Sport is the linchpin of the contemporary mediascape. It’s the ultimate reality programming: unscripted, improvisational, emotionally compelling, bounded only by the rules of whatever game is being played. It attracts mass audiences in an era of fragmentation. It’s fun. And as the announcer in this clip says, "You could not have written a script that would match the drama here" – a statement both trite yet undeniably accurate. (Doubt me? Watch The Natural and its exploding light-tower finale.) I chose this clip because it’s at once unique and representative of televised sport. Every sports fan has seen something like this … but not this. A more familiar moment wouldn’t offer something novel, as this does. Not only was CBS’s Division II championship coverage largely ignored by television viewers, but the comeback shown was unprecedented. Knowledge of the context – Winona State University, the defending champion, had won 57 straight games; Barton College has fewer than 1000 students and was a heavy underdog – might add to viewer interest, but anyone appreciating sport, drama, or human striving to excel in any endeavor can enjoy this. The range of emotion in Anthony Atkinson’s (#11, in the blue jersey) body language offers a depth of feeling unsurpassed in fiction: look at his aimless dejection after a foul, his peripatetic dribbling and scurrying to find an opening, his unbounded joy after sinking the graceful final shot. Best of all: Barton’s comeback was fueled without a single three-point shot, ostentatious dunk, oversized superstar with massive ego, or hyperbole. It’s compelling without being spectacular. And I love that the game ends on the most quotidian of basketball shots: the layup.
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