Breaking Down Basketball Clichés: Do They Even Make Sense?


Is it just me, or are both NBA and college basketball announcers filling their air time with full of clichés and misleading statements more than they used to? If you really break them down, do they make any sense?

I jotted down a few over the weekend and tried to answer that question.

Cliché: “He made that shot from downtown” when a player makes a three-pointer

Analysis: No, he didn’t, unless you think of the basket, the place everyone’s headed, as the suburbs. Shouldn’t the saying be reversed–shouldn’t the ball be coming from the suburbs, or at the very least the parking lot?

Cliché: “They could be this year’s Cinderella team!”

Analysis: This is usually said about a possible upset from a No. 16 seed against a No. 1 seed, or even a 15 against a 2. Look, no 16-seed has ever beaten a 1, and the record of the 15s vs. the 2s is almost 98 percent in favor of the 2s. When you say “Cinderella team,” you’re anticipating that the underdog is going to go on to victory, but it’s never happened and never is going to happen. “Cinderella story” implies that there’s going to be a happy ending. There never has been a happy ending for a 16- or 15-seed, and never will be.

Cliché: “It’s a David-and-Goliath matchup.”

Analysis: You hear this a lot during the NCAAs when a team is expected to beat another by 20 or more points. But I could have sworn when I read the Bible some years ago that David won the David-and-Goliath match-up, so used correctly, when you say this you mean you’re predicting an upset.

Cliché: “He was ill-advised to take that shot.”

Analysis: A favorite cliché of both pro and college basketball announcers. I really hate this. Nobody ever tells the guys he shouldn’t take the shot before he takes it. And who exactly was it that “advised” him in the first place? In football the play always comes from the bench, i.e., an advisor. But in basketball the player almost always decides when to shoot. So if you call a shot “ill-advised,” you’re saying he gave himself bad advice.

Cliché: “They’re a very physical team.”

Analysis: So what is the other team — Mental? Emotional?

Cliché: “They win with athleticism.”

Analysis: What does the other team win with? Deviousness? I mean, maybe Team A is more athletic than Team B, but you never hear anyone say “They lose because of athleticism.”

Cliché: “Offensive foul.”

Analysis: Remember George Carlin’s routine about the evolution of the term “shell-shock” to “post traumatic stress syndrome”? It’s getting that way in sports. When I was in high school they called it charging, a colorful, direct description of what the player did. Now they call if “offensive foul,” which, for someone new to basketball at least, makes it sound like there’s a number of possible ways you could commit an offensive foul besides charging. And there is, in theory. But on the court, you know that 97 percent of all offensive fouls are committed by the guy with the ball when he charges.

I know there are many more of these, but the problem with verbal clichés is that they glaze over your ear like written ones glaze over your eye. If you can think of some that I overlooked, tell me.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 26, 2013


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