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Ball Don't Lie

A look inside the wacky world of NBA halftime acts

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Pretty much any fan who attends an NBA game shows up to see their favorite players or team compete in a game with implications for their win-loss record. (This goes for the preseason, too, which gives fans a sense of what to expect during real games.) Yet it's also a spectacle, a chance for fans to watch some supremely athletic and talented players do what they do best. Style counts in addition to the final score.

So it should come as little surprise that fans take readily to the goofy and bizarre acts that frequent NBA halftime shows, a period that used to allow fans the chance to go to the bathroom and buy five more beers for the second half. Now, it's a hotbed of crazy tricks and stunts that provide fun for the whole family.

Patrick Hruby wrote about the performers and their art for ESPN's Outside the Lines:

On the floor, under the lights, you definitely need a shtick. Something to fill seven minutes. (Go a bit shorter for college games, halve the seven minutes for hockey intermissions.) Something the hoi polloi can see from the nosebleeds. Something that doesn't mess up the floor. (Sorry, equestrian lovers.) Something -- and this is key -- that grabs people in 30 seconds, max, because it's hard to bring down the house when half of the paying customers are standing in line for beer and/or the urinals.

"We always knew we had a good act when the merchandise and concession people would complain that their sales were worse," says Mike Chant, the NBA's director of live programming and entertainment, who used to book acts for the New York Knicks. "You're really just looking for the wow factor."

The wow factor is akin to former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's definition of pornography, or maybe "the Matrix." No one can describe it. You have to see if for yourself. Rubberboy has it. A contortionist billed as "the world's most flexible man," he can dislocate his arms and legs, the better to squeeze himself into a clear box the size of a medium suitcase. Rubberboy's real name is Daniel Browning Smith. He is 32 years old. He's currently on pro basketball hiatus, thanks to the recent arrival of a Rubberbaby. "After his show, people tell us he's disgusting," says Shelly Driggers, the Orlando Magic's director of arena and event presentation. "But they stay in their seats to watch."

It's a great piece with insight into the approaches of performers like Red Panda (a Chinese woman who balances bowls on her body), Lilia Stepanova (a woman who handstands on canes and operates a bow-and-arrow with her feet), and Quick Change (a husband-and-wife team who perform magic tricks and change costumes absurdly fast). Almost all of them have been on NBC's "America's Got Talent." Not surprisingly, they impressed David Hasselhoff.

Read the whole thing, because it takes these subjects seriously as people while also admitting that their acts aren't quite high art. But they entertain us, and that's more than enough.

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