NBA organ provides under-appreciated presence to big moments and games


It’s 2004, and I’m sitting on my couch with my eyes and my ears glued to the television. It’s the NBA Finals, Lakers vs. Pistons. Many things stick out in my head from that historic series. Kobe hitting a game tying three and pounding his chest, the loud and booming “DETROIT! BASKETBALL!” after a Laker turnover from the Piston’s announcer. But in the same series, I heard a particular sound and gained an understanding and appreciation for the sounds of the game, when I heard the organist at the Staples Center in Los Angles.
The organ in Los Angeles produces loud, forceful sounds and creates an almost gladiator-like atmosphere that enhances the game. Almost comparable to the horn and trumpet that accompanied soldiers before going out to war. It’s the sound of battle.
Organists are typically found at baseball games and NHL hockey games- a rarity in most basketball arenas aside from Madison Square Garden in New York City and a few others. The Laker’s organist, Dieter Ruehle has been playing at the Staples Center for the L.A.Kings for 24 years and the Lakers for 13 years.
Why does such an odd thing stand out to me? The sounds that I associate in-game moments with have stuck with me.
When I played basketball as a kid in my backyard, like most kids do, I pretended to be Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan in crunch time, about to hit a big shot. In those moments, I had the Lakers organ music play through my head.
Sounds of the game are what make sports special for me. Similar to my memories of the organ is my infatuation with broadcasters and commentators. Jim Nantz, Marv Albert, Mike Breen, Ian Eagle, Brent Musburger (Who Husker fans love to hate), Gus Johnson and the list goes on and on of people who are the voices of history within sports.
The play-by-play of sports biggest moments are almost as special as the moment itself. The “Yes Sir!” from Verne Lundquist after Jack Nicklaus drained a putt in his comeback at the 1986 Masters. Bill Raftery’s “Send it in Jerome!” following Jerome Lane’s shattering of the backboard in 1988. These drops go on to define sports best moments and become references and definitions of such moments.
So when I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and found ‘NHL Organist Alert’ it led me to the Ruehl’s twitter. It was a nostalgic blast from the past to see the face of the man behind the organ who had given sound to the game I grew up with.
Organs provide a somewhat epic soundtrack that accompany various sequences throughout the game. Whether it be the solo prior to the DE-FENSE chant or the Bennie and the Jets variation played at MSG during offensive possessions, this music makes sports’ best moments.
Whether it be the music in the introductions, the organist or songs that play during the game or the voices from the TV or radio, we take for granted the role they play in the sports that we cherish. Voices and music from my favorite sports memories will live with me forever, hand in hand with the images themselves.
If you have any sounds from the sports you love and that are special to you, tweet them at @GatewayMavs, and they may get included in next week’s issue.