Indiana Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton's vocal shifts explained

Fans have noticed that Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton's voice tends to sometimes shift mid-sentence. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

It's not what you say, but how you say it.

In his third season with Indiana, Indiana Pacers point guard Tyrese Haliburton's star power went supernova. He made his first All-NBA team, second All-Star appearance and led the league in assists.

The fifth-year guard's rise led to more time in the spotlight -- and more time speaking into microphones, prompting fans and media to notice something interesting about how he speaks.

In a February appearance on JJ Redick's "The Old Man and The Three" podcast, Haliburton's tone noticeably shifted on multiple occasions.

One shift took place near the 16-minute mark, while Haliburton described the evolution of his celebrity status. The other occurred close to the 34-minute mark, in a play-by-play breakdown of what happened between the Pacers and the Milwaukee Bucks when Giannis Antetokounmpo got upset over a game ball in December 2023.

Although Haliburton's voice wasn't a topic of discussion on the show, several fans took to the comments section to point out when the changes occurred. The above time stamps are among the most replayed sections of the 73-minute interview.

Later that month, Haliburton's distinct voices were showcased on a national stage during a postgame news conference after Indiana hosted the highest-attended NBA All-Star Game in 14 years.

Although these occurrences may have been some of the earliest instances that a mass audience noticed the switch, Haliburton has long been aware of his varying tones.

While discussing Indiana's style of play and its fan base on "The Pat McAfee Show" in February, Haliburton's voice changed so drastically mid-sentence that the host, former Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee, stopped to point it out.

"People say I have two different voices all the time," Haliburton said. "I never catch it. I watch podcasts after and I'm like, 'Dang, my voice changed.' I didn't do that on purpose. It just happened. It just happens that way naturally sometimes."

Despite Haliburton not being aware of it, there must be a reason for the switch, right?

That question piqued our interest, so we reached out to Dr. Michael M. Johns, the director of the University of Southern California's Voice Center, for a potential explanation.

He specializes in laryngology, specifically voice disorders along with swallowing and airway issues.

"Vocalization is a lot like athletics; people don't think of it that way because it happens naturally," Dr. Johns told ESPN. "It's like putting aluminum foil on a guitar string; the sound changes when the vibration is irregular."

Regarding Haliburton's voice, Dr. Johns observed: "When you listen to Tyrese's voice, there's a rough quality to it, and that would likely be a change of what's happening at the vocal cords, like that 'tinfoil on the guitar string' analogy."

He speculated that Haliburton might be compensating for vocal fatigue by changing his resonance, shifting the shape of his vocal tract or resonator.

"Athletes are using their voice a lot, and they're using their voice loudly," Dr. Johns explained. "They're hollering across the court. There's a huge amount of noise around them. They've got to be heard over that noise. And so they, like other vocal athletes, can develop some injury to their vocal folds, vocal nodules, or vocal swelling that can cause some rough quality to the voice."

Haliburton's dual tones likley won't be on display when the Pacers face off with the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC, due to a left hamstring injury.