The LeBron James picture that shows we no longer watch sport in person

LeBron James becomes the NBA's all-time leading scorer/The picture that shows we no longer watch sport in person anymore - Andrew D Bernstein/Getty Images
LeBron James becomes the NBA's all-time leading scorer/The picture that shows we no longer watch sport in person anymore - Andrew D Bernstein/Getty Images

With a fade-away jump shot over the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kenrich Williams, LeBron James made history on Tuesday night. The LA Laker broke Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's NBA scoring record and the moment was watched by millions around the world, plus 19,000 inside the poetically-named Arena (née the Staples Center). The vast majority of them chose to commemorate James’ moment by filming it on their phones.

One notable exception was 84-year-old billionaire and unlikely new social media hero Phil Knight. Sitting in the front row, Knight took in the moment with his good old-fashioned eyes. “Old school,” as was noted by some sages. Well, yes. He was born in 1938.

Knight is the co-founder of Nike and a long-time patron of James who seemingly has no problem living in the moment. Good to know that all we need to achieve his zen outlook is courtside seats, setting up one of the world’s largest companies and billions of dollars.

As for those behind him (as seen in the tweet below), well. Young people don’t know how to watch sport! Young people don’t know how to live in the moment! Young people don’t know they’re born! These are predictable criticisms, so much so that “not a cell phone in sight” has its own entry on Know Your Meme, a caption applied to everything from renaissance paintings of the crucifixion to stills from SpongeBob SquarePants.

Is anything about James’ moment ruined by the sea of phones behind Knight, other than patrons’ iPhone storage stats? Some feel that watching events in person is lessened if adding a phone screen, which overlooks our evolving multi-tasking skills. People are so used to filming now they are capable of training their phone on a moment while also peering beyond its bezelled edge. It is possible to experience a moment and simultaneously secure your status symbol.

Your level of anger about the incursions of tech into every facet of life may vary. I find it depressing to see tables of friends in restaurants spending their meals looking at apps rather than one another. There is also clearly no need for one’s own shaky footage when the 4K cameras of broadcasters are catching it all, in all of its needlessly detailed glory.

But in the phone-filmers’ defence, if you are spending a reported $100,000 on tickets (£82,710) you better believe you are coming home with a souvenir. Indeed, prestige event attendance without the accompanying phone footage is at this point like an unconsummated marriage. Pics, as the old saying goes, or it didn’t happen.

This is the inevitable endgame for a species hooked on the sham endorphins of social media likes, scrolling mindlessly on public transport, crying laughing emojis in the family Whatsapp. Young people are by no means alone here. Any child of pensioners will have their own stories of parents pawing at their phones to find the tedious video they MUST show you but instead accidentally ordering an Uber.

It still seems curious that so many people in the crowd in Los Angeles, ground zero for inane mindfulness aphorisms, are disobeying the most ardent demand of the day: be present. But here we encounter some contradictions. Instinctively it feels as if unadorned watching must be the purest and best way to consume live events. It is indeed thought that taking pictures impairs your memory of an event. Videos, on the other hand, may have the opposite effect.

A thesis from Leiden University in the Netherlands last year concluded that there was no similar memory-affecting impact from taking a video as a still photo. In fact, participants fared better in subsequent memory tests when focusing their eyes on just their smartphones while filming, rather than switching between screen and reality.

Still, it is tough to argue for the aesthetic superiority of gawping faces bathed in blue light to the serenity of Knight as the background to James’ moment. But what exactly are we railing against here?

It is not a stretch to imagine baseball purists up in arms as radio coverage took off in the 1920s, nor football fans lamenting a time before almost every game of note was televised. Things, in other words, change.

Do you remember sporting events before phones? Share your favourite experiences in the comments section below