Generally speaking, when it comes to in-game music in the NBA — not the stuff played during timeouts or at halftime, but the little song snippets you hear when game action is actually taking place — there are three types of arenas. There’s the predominantly old-school, organ-based variety, the kind of low-production-value, audience-participation-heavy music you get in stadiums like Madison Square Garden and Staples Center. There’s the hip-hop and pop-rooted, crowd-pleasing variety, the kind of hit-a-minute Top 40 soundtrack you get in stadiums like Quicken Loans Arena and the Barclays Center. And then there’s FedExForum, home of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Of the 29 (30 if you wanna count Staples twice) NBA arenas, MSG probably has the best pre-game and break-in-action music. When it comes to TV broadcast-only music for bumpers and the like, the Sacramento Kings’ local affiliate probably has the best selections, believe it or not. But when it comes to in-game song selection, there is no equal for FedExForum. While the sheer volume of it can be occasionally exhausting — only Barclays definitely beats it in terms of songs per minute — the stadium is unmatched for the breadth, diversity and high quality of the songs being played during any given point in game action.
I first noticed this watching Grizzlies games a year or two ago, Memphis long being a league pass favorite of mine. Some stadiums have one or two weird musical cues that will perk my ears up during the course of a game — that “EVERYBODY / Clap your hands” bit they play in OKC, the weird “Breaks”/”Rappers Delight” mashup they used to play in New Jersey, I think the Pepsi Center is still the only place I’ve heard serious in-game dubstep — but nearly every time I watched a Grizzlies home game, there was a new song selection that caught my attention. Woah, are they playing “Yonkers” by Tyler the Creator? Is that the horn riff to Outkast’s ‘”Spottieottiedopalicious?” DJ Shadow’s “Organ Donor?” The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind??”
The list went on, and before long, listening to the games was almost as much fun as watching them. The cues don’t always work, like when they played the intro to Metallica’s “One” the other night (amusing as it was, I couldn’t imagine a way the selection could be considered musically or thematically appropriate) but compared to the other 28/29 NBA arenas, most of whom seem to crib from the same master list of 50 or so jams and musical tropes acceptable for in-game action, such outside-the-box thinking was still impressive.