On October 29th, the tortoise once again defeated the hare.
This time, its opponent didn’t sleep - it was simply faster. And it was actually a wiener dog.
During halftime of the Milwaukee Bucks’ tilt against the Atlanta Hawks - the only time that we have beaten them this season (coincidence?) - the Bucks’ entertainment squad pulled out all of the stops for a Halloweenie Race. They recruited the best and brightest pups in the metro area for a half-court sprint aided by the allure of tasty treats. The PA announcer introduced them one by one, highlighting their adorable costumes, alma maters, and favorite toys. The race itself was filled with drama, as our eventual shelled champion was beat out of the gates by an unidentifiably costumed competitor, but like Daniel do Nascimento, its pace was unsustainable. The victorious doggo kicked it into high gear and won by a country mile. The festivities concluded with the only doggie duo - dressed as the princess and the frog - charmingly crossed the finish line together.
It was an excellent performance - but was it the best? It sent me down a rabbit (erm, tortoise) hole of considering the key ingredients to an all-star halftime show. To do so, I watched an obscene - obscene - number of YouTube videos, and considered a number different show genres. I’m excited to share my newfound wisdom with y’all.
Let’s start with what is NOT the best genre of halftime show: musical artists. Halftime in the NBA is short, and shorter once you factor in having to set up and take down any semblance of a set and audio set-up. What’s more, you’re assuming that a majority of the fans have the same music taste - which is a stretch, considering that all you know is that they are probably from the Milwaukee area, can shell out for tickets, and are at least not disinterested in basketball. If that doesn’t sound like a ringer for [insert artist name here]’s fan base, I don’t know what to tell you.
All of these issues came together in Ja Rule’s infamous halftime show. Ja Rule repeatedly asked the audience “Are we ready?” before giving up: “I guess we’re not.” Weirdly, Fiserv Forum wasn’t packed with Ja Rule fans for the occasion. The show, already short, was further delayed due to audio issues. And even still it was too long, with Giannis memorably coming out to warm up during the thick of the performance.
But even imagine a best-case scenario: Beyoncé. You get to hear three songs from Queen Bey, sitting next to a bunch of drunk Wisconsinites who have never heard of her, all for the pretty penny of a Bucks ticket. Sign me up.
I’ll acknowledge that there may be a U-shaped curve at play, where musical artists that enough people know (and can thus enjoy the halftime show) but not enough people love (to go see them in concert) hit the spot between trash and treasure. Some friends in high school with no interest in basketball went to see Vanilla Ice perform during halftime at the Bradley Center. Since the short format is conducive to one-hit wonders, maybe that fits the bill.
Yet, the upshot of musical artists is that they are unique. Another common halftime show genre is dance groups, and while they are almost always incredibly talented (a shout-out to my Sheboygan North's state champion dance team, who have performed at Bucks games in the past), or at least adorable (like the Bucks Grand Dancers), it is hard to differentiate one from another.
With musical artists and dance groups out of the way, we have a mix of novelty acts jockeying for the prize of best halftime show ever. These acts are certainly unique, but some fall short another key dimension: scale.
I thought about scale when I was watching the Halloweenie Race at home on TV. The race was excellent on TV - it’s the same angle that was presented in the above hyperlink, with the viewer nose to nose with the puppers. My concern is that watching a bunch of small dogs in costumes race across the court would be disappointing from the bleacher seats. Of course, there are a bajillion screens inside the arena, but if you’re watching it on TV in-person, why are you even there (besides people screaming for their favorite pooch)?
Relatedly, people seem to go ga-ga for Christian and Scooby, a circus performer and his trusted pooch. I’m a fan, but Scooby is a chihuahua, an infamously minuscule mutt. I doubt that watching him jump from one basketball to another (impressively!) is all that impressive from the nosebleeds.
The remaining candidate that drop out at this stage, but with a slight twist, are “cool” violinists (like this kid). They find someone really good at violin, drop the bass, throw a bunch of dancers around them, and make playing the violin seem a whole lot hipper than it actually is. (As a proud violist, no disrespect intended.) In this case, I still argue that you can’t see the skill of the performer from the upper balcony. But that is at least partially mollified by the fact that you can hear it. Without breaking down halftime performances by the senses, though, I still think these folks are at a disadvantage.
Atop of the pyramid of halftime shows sit two acts that are unique and translate well across scales. At this stage, just like the difference between great and merely good NBA players, the margins are slim. It comes down to skill.
Our runner-up is the Amazing Sladek, otherwise known (by me and my family at least) as Chair Guy. There have been others that have climbed atop a pile of chairs, but no one does it like Gary. He is a unique talent that can be appreciated from all vantages (including from two, high-out-of-their-mind guys in front of my family at a Bucks game a few years back).
My only quibble is how much skill it really involves. He latches the chairs together as he climbs. That’s understandable, but somehow feels disingenuous. Moreover, he’s an old dude and climbs on a lot of chairs - he very well might die if he fell. That could indicate that he is so skilled that falling is a negligible risk that he is willing to take for his livelihood - or that it’s not as impressive as it looks.
That brings us to our champion: Red Panda. She passes all of our criteria with flying colors. Not only does she ride a massive unicycle - a formidable talent in its own right - but she also works magic with bowls. Watch the end of the video, when she throws five bowls from her leg onto her head - again, while on a massive unicycle. What!? You don’t see the Amazing Sladek bringing bowls to the top of Chair Mountain. I have never seen her in person, but I would imagine that she would be incredible - even from the last row.
Moreover, she’s human: her fall during Game 3 of the 2018 NBA finals shocked a nation. Perhaps it’s odd to rank her as more skilled despite this mistake - and I’m certainly not hoping for Gary to take a tumble - but I think that it emphasizes the difficulty of her craft. People like Red Panda can push their talent to new heights by accepting the chance of failure, rather than stay comfortably below the ceiling of their abilities. I think there’s a life lesson somewhere in there.
And so, although I loved the Halloweenie race, it ended up falling short. I hope that the Bucks entertainment staff takes this article to heart and at least considers larger dogs (as well as something slightly more unique than running fast). Alternatively, I’m hoping to go to a game this year; I wonder if Red Panda is available...
And finally, a hearty screw-you to the YouTube algorithm, which has decided that I want to watch NBA halftime shows for the rest of my life.