Rihanna, Kevin Durant, and the Psychology of Sports Heckling
Does it work?
Although Rihanna’s heckling of Kevin Durant appeared to backfire during Game 1 of the NBA finals Thursday — the Golden State Warriors whooped the Cleveland Cavaliers 113 to 91 — the athlete’s icy reactions to her behavior makes you wonder if RiRi got inside his head after all.
When a reporter asked Durant during a post-game press conference if he had in fact shot a pointed look at Rihanna after nailing a three pointer, his response was sub zero. As teammate Stephen Curry cautioned, “Don’t get in that trap,” Durant shook his head grimly and responded, “I’m cool, have fun with that.”
Rihanna had been doing her best to wage psychic warfare against Durant from the start on Thursday, beginning with a court-side “Brick!”, which prompted an angry glance from KD.
She later was caught doing a court-side bow to her all time favorite player, LeBron James, and then dabbed at a Warriors fan that was motioning at her to sit the heck down.
Heckling of course is a sport unto itself, and it definitely has the ability to affect the outcome of a game. The Seahawks’ infamously loud fans, dubbed “the 12th Man” (the number 12 jersey has been retired in their honor), pride themselves on being so loud that they can throw off an opposing team’s abilities. In the name of team pride and perhaps to sway the odds, fans have battled for years for the Guinness world record for loudest stadium — Kansas City Chiefs fans achieved 142.2 decibels of noise at Arrowhead Stadium in 2014. That is louder than the sound of a jet airplane flying 100 feet overhead.
Dr. Dann Wann, a professor at Murray State University who studies the psychology of sports fandom, told Bleacher Report that noise can have a direct impact on players.
”What the research suggests is if it’s a very difficult task, something the athlete is going to fail at more often than succeed, the distraction of the crowd is going to inhibit their performance,” he said. “If it’s something they’re good at, if they’re likely to get it right, then the crowd should support their performance and make them better.”
But every player is different, and it’s also possible that an antagonistic heckler can spur an athlete the opposite way, prompting them to play even better. This could have been what went down Thursday, with Durant clocking eight dunks and 38 points on 26 shots overall in Game 1. Going into Game 2, Rihanna might have her work cut out for her.