Tape delay was once one of the ugliest words in basketball. When the NBA Finals were tape-delayed prior to the league’s explosion in popularity in the 1980s, it was a sign of disinterest from fans and corporate sponsors. But now, with interest as high as it’s ever been, the NBA could turn back to tape-delaying games for a very different language. As Adam Silver explained in a TIME100 interview with Sean Gregory, bad language is a real concern as the NBA resumes its season at Disney.
“I think often players, they understand when they’re on the floor, they’re saying certain things to each other because it’s so loud in the arena, they know a lot of it is not being picked up. They may have to adapt their language a little bit knowing what they say will likely be picked up by microphones and in all seriousness, we may need to put a little bit of a delay.”
A large segment of fans would obviously prefer to hear the unfiltered audio from the court. This would indeed be a rare opportunity for the masses to hear what is really said during games, and Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell supports that.
The issue lies with corporate sponsors. Companies advertising during NBA games likely wouldn’t be thrilled with their brands being associated with the colorful language players often use on the floor. The NBA could use pumped in crowd noise to drown some of that out. After all, the noise of arenas is what allows players to get away with using bad language in the first place. But the NBA is not used to hosting games without fans, so it will have to experiment a bit in order to see what works.
While tape-delaying may censor out bad language, it could still provide unique insight if the rest of the audio is left untouched. Hearing players communicate strategies during games would be a very interesting wrinkle in the Disney restart, so long as teams were OK with giving away that much pertinent tactical information to future opponents. The NBA wants to innovate during this period at Disney. The audio on the floor is one of the most interesting ways in which it could do so.