NBA Finals Get Big Sound

For a strike-shortened season, the incident-laden denouement of the NBA’s postseason has sound as nuanced as its action has been. The audio team of mixer Scott Pray and submixer Jonathan Freed has extended ESPN’s all-surround philosophy right through the NBA Finals.

Freed is using a Holophone H2Pro microphone as the foundation of his surround array, supporting it with Neumann KMD 84 cardioid condenser mics, which are remotely controllable via AES 42. He uses the same surround microphone on NFL telecasts and says it lets him establish a well defined surroundscape by picking up crowd sounds along its periphery as well as within its immediate vicinity.

“That gets us a sense of place in the stands, where you feel yourself surrounded by other people,” Freed explains. “Where we get the sense of scale and size is from adding the Neumann digital microphones near but not next to the Holophone and pointing them outward and well above the heads of the adjacent crowd to pick up the distant corners of the arena.”

Other critical microphones include the Sennheiser 8060 short shotgun as the “key” mic positioned on the basket stanchion and aimed at the foul line. With a camera-mounted Sennheiser 8070 long shotgun and a lavaliere basket mic, it forms a triumvirate of microphones picking up action around the baskets. But, says Freed, the highly aimed, on-axis key shotgun allows him to pull the foul-line shooter’s detail out of the crowd sound and PA noise that increase in intensity during that activity.

The Conference and Finals games are produced out of the NEP SS25 and SS22 multi-trailer rigs, depending on the city. SS22 has a rented Stagetec Aurus console for submix, custom fitted for NBA, and a Calrec Apollo for the main mix, using Hydra2 with the Apollo for all announce mics. Stagetec Nexus routers are used for effects-audio transport and distribution of all shared audio signals throughout the truck compound via a combination of Calrec MADI and Nexus MADI, analog, AES, and HD-SDI routing. The C unit on SS25 has an analog Calrec C2 console for submix, which is limited to copper transport.

World Feed Audio
The world feed for the international broadcast of the NBA Finals is under the aegis of NBA Entertainment. A1 Phil Adler working on a Calrec console in Game Creek’s Liberty (fitted with a Calrec Alpha) or Victory (with its new Calrec Apollo) will take in clean domestic feeds from ESPN’s camera and net microphones. Four camera mics deployed around the court take up the slack when ABC/ESPN goes to cutaways or to extended commercial breaks. Adler also takes in a composite stereo effects feed from ESPN and mixes it with his own crowd microphones, consisting of a pair of Audio-Technica BP4025 shotguns placed high up on one of the basketball crossbeams, usually camera left.

“We also listen in on a copy of their stats channel, which helps us with our own on-screen graphics, and we’re also tied into the scoreboard and the time-out coordinators to update the graphics as needed,” he says.” I don’t have any announcers to mix, and that’s the big difference for me in mixing NBA. We take feeds of ABC’s director, producer, and AD so we can follow their camera cuts and replays, know when to get off their feed and on to one of our own cameras, or take an ABC on-court interview as part of our show. Without these hot mics, we’d be lost.”

International broadcasters can use microphones set up near each basket for their standups, with the signal sent by satellite to their home broadcasters. The complement of international broadcasters — about eight are expected for this year’s Finals — will do their announcing from individual broadcast booths provided by Broadcast Services International (BSI) using Commentary Systems International’s digital system for transporting international announce audio via CobraNet to Adler’s mix position. These analog audio feeds will be converted to digital and embedded in the overseas video feed as AES digital audio.

“This is the first year we’re embedding the audio of the commentators,” says Adler. “We’ve gone from analog audio over a ViVX line, then came ISDN, and now we’re fully digital for 12 mono tracks.”

The NBA may have had a tough start to a truncated season, but it’s going out with big sound.