“That’s mean.” While his voice seemed like it took a dark turn when uttering those two words combined with a typical side-eye snarl, the sharp snap that transformed Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle’s vocal hue from an opaque chartreuse to a glossy canary that rounded out like a chipped Easter egg was more along the lines of ‘WTF?’ rather than, 'You really just ask me that, you idiot?’
Beat. Rinse, repeat: “That’s mean. Don’t…don't be mean.”
Finally, he answered the question that was asked in a snarky huff.
The first time I had stood next to Carlisle’s arm inside the small media scrum that engulfed him toward the tail end of the 2013-14 NBA season, I was only 35 minutes removed from vomiting in the parking garage due to anxiety doing an up-tempo drum solo on my nerves. The thought of going into this technicolored NBA world blind to everything except the black-and-white realization that I had no idea what to expect or where to go was castrating.
My sarcasm, followed on the heels of his dynamic scolding, didn’t help matters.
He stood in place, fixated on the players remaining on the practice court in front of him and directly to my right. The supernova himself was at the far end of the court practicing shots as his mentor, the famous Holger Geschwindner, looked on from the safety of his protégée’s immediate eye line. It would be another 10 minutes or so until he finally stopped and made his way over to reporters.
This was the time that I learned Dirk Nowitzki had no color to his voice.
That was six years ago.
While synesthetes aren’t exactly a rare bunch (four percent of the population), the different types of synesthesia are rare in their own right. Some people can taste sound. Some people can hear colors. Some people can see music. Some people see letters and numbers in specific colors. In my case, the type of synesthesia that coils around my senses like an albino boa constrictor with cucumber irises is Chromesthesia, the type that allows me to see sound. And sometimes in a really trippy, through-the-looking-glass, "for the love of God, put down that acid" sort of way. But only when it comes to music notes and voices that carry an echo of harmony. No melody voices allowed - they would only spot seafoam before dropping off the radar completely into a pit of marshmallow static nothingness.
On that puke-flavored morning six years ago, I realized how to shift the narrative within the walls of paralyzing fear and change a cluster ball of beige bleakness in one man’s voice to a panoply of wild iridescences that showcased whenever that same man decided to trigger his weapon of choice on the court: his fatal fadeaway step-back.
Nowitzki created space in a way that would make opponents cry on the hardwood and he did it in a way that figuratively suspended time with a pivot. When he would do the move during a practice scrimmage, emblazon on the court was a harpsichord – at least in a trippy visual sense. If you’re not familiar with the instrument, it’s like a piano and a pipe organ had a drunken one night stand which resulted in keys that suddenly bend the knee when released by the pressure of fingers. When one stops playing the instrument, there is no echo to be heard. Just a sudden stop of musical death – one that mimics Dirk’s fadeaway release in a brutal, yet honest, visual.
And the color the harpsichord summons? A vivid-yet-violent violet.
Watching him up close, the first few notes burst onto the scene when he uses his non-pivot foot to ward off the defense in order to create enough space for his signature shot while maintaining a firm grip on the ball. In what should be a jerky maneuver, Nowitzki made it look silk-like when he would pivot and release the ball, ultimately stopping the music dead in its tracks.
Makes sense that the instrument Dirk identifies with in the synesthete world dates all the way back to 1397.
Realizing that having a touch of a different type of synesthesia when it comes to quick motion (without music playing in the background) was a little off-putting until I realized how to incorporate it into my work. Seeing the motion up close and without a filtered background noises from a broadcast is a sort of jarring but becoming all too familiar over the years (if music or a television filter enter the picture, the Chromesthesia overpowers).
The locker room voices vs. on-the-court performance colors vary with each player. On the court, they swivel inside a type of glass completely composed of a different sort of refracted light. In the locker room, the glass becomes stained, sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad, but all the while more illumining than anything else on the outside world.
The Wunderkind, Luka Doncic, whose voice once carried a melody-like aspect to it during the early days of his rookie year (this was due to him speaking so softly in the locker room that only mythical superheroes with enhanced hearing whose parts were cut from The Boys could understand him), has his own dominating presence on the court, though his jagged grace when it comes to his own step-back is harder to decipher in terms of sound and color. But, my god, look at this spacing and space:
The colors my actually present themselves as his game progresses and if he decides to step up his shooting game more during the upcoming 2019-20 season (he shot 36.1 percent with his step-back 3-pointers) and how he looks on the court with Kristaps Porzingis.
Actually, I’m counting on it.
In the locker room, Doncic’s voice started to coruscate the more comfortable he became in front of the media as the 2018-19 season wore on. From speckled emerald to a goldish configuration that was more matte than glossy. With each game, he becomes more confident, and the colors shoot and stab in order to prove it.
Over the years, players have come and gone from the locker room whose voices glittered like a diamond under a spotlight, and whose voices left a great deal to the imagination in a dull-like manner (not their fault, of course). And, of course, those whose voices dropped off into that pit of vast nothingness, the ones you have to catch from a different angle in order to see them at their brightest.
Unless the color hits when you’re being scolded by Rick Carlisle. In that case, it’s probably wise to just run away.