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Better Than the Real Thing

The strange pleasure of sports highlights

By Thomas Chatterton Williams | May 22, 2019
Abdullah Bin Sahl/Flickr
Abdullah Bin Sahl/Flickr

One of the disorienting things about living in a time zone six-to-nine hours ahead of the United States is that you consume American news and entertainment at a different pace than is intended. A cultural event like Game of Thrones makes social media, especially Twitter, an extremely inhospitable space on Monday mornings and afternoons, as you try to make it through your day without spoilers. Sporting events are different, though. Specifically the NBA playoffs, which in recent years, with the rise of YouTube highlight channels, have been not just altered but improved in certain ways, transformed into a rapid dopamine drip, instead of the slower-going, real-time spectacle. In this instance, the cost of immediate consumption is low, precluding the righteous tightrope walk through the workday. Instead, there is only the condensed pleasure of waking up and activating your phone.

Witnessing a basketball game reduced to an 8-to-12 minute series of made buckets (in all but the rarest cases, sans free throws) and a smattering of defensive stands is an efficient pleasure. But it’s so gratifying that it threatens the real thing. Unlike traditional—grossly abbreviated—highlight reels or sports page recaps, these videos occupy a middle ground somewhere between summation and completion—creating something altogether unique, worthy not just as a substitute but as a standalone viewing experience in its own right. (When there are multiple games to binge watch over coffee, the rewards intensify.) Indeed, it can be difficult back home to make it through all the lulls and breaks of a full game. I have a few American friends here who still wake up at 4:30 a.m. to see the Warriors play, but I now prefer to sleep in.

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