Inside The Life And Times Of An NBA DJ, Where Every Night Is A Fine Line

No professional sports league embraces the entertainment aspect of sport quite like the NBA. As the NFL increases fines for celebrations and Major League Baseball gripes about bat flips, the NBA takes a different approach.

On and off the court, the individualism of players is celebrated. From unique hairstyles to post-game attire to shoes worn during games to pregame dance routines, NBA players are given a platform to be themselves and entertain. The on-court product of the NBA reflects that.

However, NBA franchises know that in the current market, the in-arena experience has to be even greater than just the product on the court to get people in the building consistently. With every game televised, the experience of being in the arena must offer something more to fans, especially on teams that don’t feature a LeBron James or Steph Curry (or Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson or … teams who aren’t the Warriors is what I’m saying).

NBA executives are aware of this, and it’s why we’ve seen teams embrace unique forms of in-arena entertainment.

“Anybody who thinks sports is sports [is wrong],” Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin told CBS Sports in 2015. “Sports is entertainment. You can’t pull the two apart, it’s like two sides of an oyster shell. They are together. The game is great, but this has to be a relevant part of your lifestyle. You can be the biggest NBA fan in the world and never come to a Hawks game. You can consume us through TV and video games, so to come here we have to be extraordinary and do things that constantly make us relevant.”

The Hawks, like a number of other teams, employ an in-arena DJ, who spins live during the game to offer a unique musical experience that is different from a playlist of arena rock, pop and some hip-hop. Big Tigger is in his third year as the DJ for the Hawks after spending five years with the Wizards in Washington, D.C., and is one of the veterans of the NBA DJ fraternity.

As Tigger explains it, music is a part of everyone’s life all the time, so the job of the arena DJ is to tap into the energy of the building and enhance the experience of the fans.

“It’s a careful balance of not going too far one way or too far that way,” Big Tigger told UPROXX. “Playing equally familiar records across all genres. You’ve got the pop music the dance music was crazy crazy, there was a bunch of those songs. It’s about keeping everybody kinda happy and playing slightly familiar records and then I’ll drop a record and they’ll go ‘oh how you do that?’ I’ll try to intertwine mashups too, which’ll put an old rock record with a hip-hop beat or stuff like that. It’s just trying to keep it fresh and entertaining.”

The first full-time in-arena DJ in any professional sport was DJ Irie, who is in his 17th year with the Miami Heat after coming on before the 1999-2000 season, when the Heat moved into American Airlines Arena.