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NBA Control Center

"Whatever is not captured by resolution is invisible," as Hito Steyerl suggests, but in professional sports at least, decisions of 'truth' are still being made upon this invisibility through instant replay — decisions complicated not only by resolution but also by frame rate and the interstices between 'stills' of a moving game.



There is an interesting nexus in basketball that exists between the seams of the ball as a particular functional outcome of industrial design and manufacture; the seams of the ball as a particular means to optimize 'grip' or purchase between a player's shooting hand, the ball itself, and the potential for backspin on a shot proper; and the seams of the ball as a visual indicator to determine any change of spin during slow-motion instant replays (and the correlate determination of who may have touched the ball last on an out-of-bounds call). In this sense we may describe a particular and peculiar line taken from symmetry, efficiency and aesthetics to an omniperspectival optic regime and its corresponding apparatus of truth.

a new relationship to the law


Technically Speaking


A basketball player gets whistled for a technical foul and a free throw is awarded to the other team as a penalty. Almost always outside the normative range of what constitutes a foul in the game — actually making bodily contact with an athlete on the opposing team — the technical is precisely what it says it is: a technicality that has been broken in the juridical structure that is the basketball league proper, most often a behavioural infraction against what is considered good sportsmanship. Some of these juridical prohibitions are universal across leagues, while some are unique to the league itself.

(Usually in the courts of mainstream civil society, it is one who is declared not guilty who gets off on a technicality. Not so in basketball, in which the technicality is always on, always assigned as a penalty against which there is next to no opportunity for recourse or exoneration.)

A basketball player steps up to the line to shoot the free throw. Though it is meant to be an award or restitution for the technicality that has been broken, it is actually quite a difficult shot. This is because the restitution exists somehow outside the normal context of play: the shooter goes to the line alone while the rest of the players must stand and watch out at midcourt, unlike the regular free throw situation in which players from each team line up in staggered formation along both sides of the painted key to rebound the potentially missed shot.

But there is no rebound to be had with the technicality. Again it exists outside of game play, which is to say it exists outside of the game's historical time. And further, it exists outside of its usual relations: while not having the players line up for a rebound is meant to be less distracting for the shooter, their absence is actually quite viscerally felt, a denuding of the multiple body's co-composition that leaves the one shooting very naked and alone.

So on the one hand a player gets whistled for a technicality, but it is paradoxically the one who has been offended (or their agent) who will face the intensity of exposure in exacting a restitution. And the purportedly cybernetic technique of shooting free throws reveals its limits in turn: it is the messiness and chaos of co-present bodies — even if they are competitors — that lubricates this technical machine towards its successful realization.

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eye spot the law, and the . . .

nfl instant replay

with the assistance of instant replay, the media announcers of sports spectacle often modulate the rule of the referee (and the Law) — at least in the court of public opinion. which is then also to say in the boardrooms of vectoral capital, where the Law is written. the referee here should be understood as a chimera of policeman (the whistle) and judge (the penalty meted).

this modulation of the rule is three-fold: first, "bad" calls made in real time which the television broadcast instant replay shows to be wrong after the fact; second, the use of video review as a training tool by officials themselves; and finally, the introduction of instant replay during games as a means of adjudicating the Law itself.

concerning this latter use of instant replay in adjudication, it may be initiated in one of three ways: the coach (a complainant), the referee (policeman and judge), or the league (vectoral capitalists whose governance system writes the Law).

the NFL, for example, has a limited number of coach's challenges that use instant replay, as well as certain rules codified by the league in which all instances must be reviewed automatically (eg. touchdowns in the final two minutes). to my knowledge, there are no situations in which the referee has the discretion alone to initiate an instant replay review.

in the NBA, on the other hand, the referee may initiate an instant replay review, though under a discretion limited to certain categories of instances — such as "important" out of bounds calls. there are no coach's challenges, but the league still mandates certain categories in which all instances must be reviewed — such as buzzer-beater shots at the end of any quarter.

the Law constitutes the rules of the game, in other words, but also the rules that govern a league, which are different, though unrelated things. it isn't the rules that are under dispute in any particular ludic case, but rather the plays themselves and their provisional judgements (the differend). it is the play that is being reviewed and the play that has become problematized by television and spectators.

these human policemen and judges are fallible, and sport is a game. its "objectivity" is ambiguous at best, and moreover a product of modernity. instant replay was not brought in at the outset to remedy those "imperceptibles" of human vision and judgement, but is rather a byproduct of television and the subsequent flows of public opinion, nielsen ratings, etc., it produces.