NBA on DVD…There's nothing else like it!
What makes a great basketball player? I haven't lost a lot of sleep pondering this question, but evidently someone else has. Now, thanks to this DVD release from USA Films and NBA Entertainment, you can see for yourself the exact components required to assemble such a person, and judge for yourself who has the right stuff to be an NBA Ultimate Player.
Facts of the Case
Each segment of this presentation examines a component necessary for one to be a great basketball player. The star quality in question is then illustrated through interviews and archival footage of the best players of both yesterday and today. In constructing the "Ultimate Player," the presentation moves through eight different areas:
Eyes—The ability to see the whole floor and know exactly where
all ten players are.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that this disc did not just concentrate on today's marquee players, but paid tribute to the players of an earlier time as well. Whether it is Bob Cousy's eyes, Bill Bradley's head, or Wilt Chamberlain's arms and hair, the makers of this disc were mindful of the long and storied history of the game. Each segment is made up of player interviews interspersed with brief game clips. We see players reminisce about a particularly intimidating opponent, and then see that opponent burn them on the floor. Some of the footage is fairly exciting, but the viewer never gets a chance to really get into the action since only brief clips are shown before moving on to the next talking head.
The video quality is a very mixed bag. The entire feature is presented full-frame, owing to its origins on broadcast television. The interviews shot for this presentation are clear and bright, although with some signs of edge enhancement. Any footage from about 1995 or later is crystal clear and sharp, with bright colors like the red of Michael Jordan's uniform coming through strong. Any footage older than that is likely to be hazy and soft, with muted colors and a lot of digital artifacting. I've downloaded AVI files that look better than a lot of the early '90s footage on this disc. Picture quality drops dramatically as the source material gets older, so that Magic Johnson's showtime footage looks like it was shot on an RCA camcorder with a dirty lens, Dr. J. looks like D.W. Griffith shot his footage, and older players like George Mikan look like Og painted them on a cave wall. Some of this is of course due to the age of the source material, but it has been replicated so sloppily as to magnify any existing film defects while creating a horde of new digital flaws.
Sound quality is good overall, but unimpressive. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is clear and easy to understand, but makes little use of the surround system except for musical interludes, announcer soundbites, and cheesy "roar of the crowd" effects.
There is a lot of extra content on this disc, taking up almost as many minutes as the main feature itself. There are seven video spotlights highlighting various past and present players who appear to have been chosen completely at random. Each of these runs from four to six minutes in duration. There is a three-minute feature showing highlights of All-Star Saturday 2001, including clips from the Rookie Challenge, the Three-Point Shootout, and the dunk contest. Finally there was a four minute feature about All-Star Sunday 2001, essentially an extended highlight reel of the NBA All-Star game, quite possibly the single most pointless sporting event in the entire calendar. Rounding out the extra content is a selection of DVD-ROM material.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As mentioned earlier, the weakest part of the main feature was the "Hair/Mouth" section, which prompted me to remark that things had taken "a serious turn for the stupid." The "Hair" portion seemed to exist primarily as an excuse to show clips of Dennis Rodman, although adequate attention was paid to Dr. J's Afro. On the other hand, the "Mouth" segment did show some clips of the outrageous and eloquent Charles Barkley, so it wasn't a total loss. Come to think of it, Sir Charles's words of wisdom here and in his spotlight clip were about the only part of this whole DVD I actually enjoyed.
I admit that I am not a fan of the NBA, but I think the success or failure of a disc like this one should be easy to test. It's simple, really: do I know more about the game now than I did before I watched it? Do I have a greater appreciation of the skills required to play in the NBA? Ummm, no. The presentation on this disc is an exercise in name-dropping punctuated with a few thrilling highlights.
I don't know who would watch this disc if they didn't have to review it. It is essentially an extended commercial for the NBA, with lots of sizzle and no steak. I haven't watched an NBA game since I saw Larry Bird hit the last triple-double of his career in early 1992, and watching this disc reminded me why. Serious basketball fans will find this disc shallow and pointless. Come to think of it, so will non-fans.
Case dismissed. Now, please just go away.
We stand adjourned.
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