When I heard Arcade Fire’s Win Butler (above) had been named MVP of last night’s NBA All Star Celebrity Game, I was hardly surprised. After all, Butler’s intense devotion to the game was noted in this space nearly a decade ago, but it seems what happened after the contest has become a talking point this morning. Butler was muzzled by ESPN’s Sage Steele when attempting to tout Canada’s much-vaunted public health care, to which The Guardian’s Dave Schilling replies, “thank God, the last thing I want from my novelty basketball game is anything that actually matters to the fate of the planet.”
To be fair, these affairs are essentially one big gag. It’s like the world’s most tedious pick-up game. No one boxes out, there’s no rhyme or reason to the offenses and neither team even so much as attempted something as rudimentary as a pick-and-roll. In short, it was kind of like watching a Nets v Sixers game, but with more at stake. I suppose that’s part of the appeal. Celebrities: they’re just like us. They’re terrible at basketball. Marvel at Anthony Anderson’s complete lack of utility in every conceivable position on the court. Chortle as tennis player Milos Raonic turns the ball over as though it’s his job. Giggle whenever someone calls Milwaukee Bucks owner Marc Lasry a “celebrity”. The announcers made a cursory effort to liven up the affair, but even they couldn’t be all that bothered to pay attention.
It’d be foolish to be surprised that Butler used his platform to try to make a meaningful point. He’s been politically outspoken for most of his time as a pop star. It should also not come as a shock that ESPN would shut him down as soon as he got too vocal about something that doesn’t involve topics like whether or not Cam Newton is a leader or if LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan. Would letting Win Butler finish whatever he had to say about health care really damage the lofty status of the ESPN brand? Doubtful. The network is so omnipresent and monolithic that even the full efforts of Fox Sports 1 couldn’t loosen their substantial grip on the market. No matter what city I’m in, ESPN is on in the airport, just because it’s expertly made wallpaper. You can stare at their programming for hours and never find yourself troubled by what’s being broadcast. That might be their greatest asset – it’s hypnotic, even when it’s officious, overbearing and dumb, like whatever is being discussed on that day’s episode of First Take. The minute something happens that’s not a part of the pedantic script, the iron fist of the Worldwide Leader comes crashing down.