2014 NBA Finals: Is Heat-Spurs redux good for NBA fans?

I’ve watched precious little of the 2014 NBA playoffs, and I ignored the long regular season, but I’ll likely watch most of the NBA Finals — whenever it finally begins after yet another long lay off — because the two best teams will again do battle. Knowing this type of clash occurs most years though, why should fans watch an often formulaic and endless six weeks of playoffs when most can predict the championship participants by mid-April or earlier?

LeBron James Tim DuncanJon Washburn laid out a good case Monday, one far more insightful, factual and coherent than you’ll read in the mainstream media, but I still differ. I don’t think most fans, at least the ones I know who’ve lost interest in the NBA for years, enjoy pro basketball’s annual two-month march to inevitability after 82 regular season games each winter.

Ignoring the NFL because it’s an entirely different animal due to solely playing on weekends, the most popular postseason event in America is probably the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The second is a close call between the Stanley Cup and Major League Baseball playoffs.

March Madness is popular due to brackets, the everyone-has-a-chance-mentality and massive hype, ironically often from folks who ignore the four-month regular season prior. In a broad nutshell, the NHL postseason is popular due to lack of predictability, low scores and white-knuckle intensity, as is MLB. The latter two often revolve around goaltending or pitching, plus a bounce of the ball or tap of the puck here and there.

And while you won’t hear talking heads note this often, baseball’s playoffs are easily the shortest — and thus arguably most intense — finishing in less than half the time of hockey or hoops.

Fans like that. But do they prefer a sport like pro hoops that, as Washburn notes, “truly lets the teams settle it.”

Rewarding success in life or sports is appealing. The “best” NBA team usually takes home the crown, and that’s a powerful antidote to a UConn basketball team, barely ranked at season’s end, that gets hot for six games and wins a title. But despite enormous ESPN and TNT hype, NBA playoff ratings, especially in early rounds with elongated series between teams going nowhere, disagree. Questionable officiating (Clippers-Thunder Game 5, plus myriad other examples) doesn’t help the playoff appeal either.

The Pacers and Heat delivered only two competitive games among six, and multiple tilts that were predictable and over early, especially Game 6. Removing a solid concluding game Saturday night, the vaunted Thunder-Spurs series was a snoozer too with zero suspense. The home team was never challenged in Games 1 through 5. It was essentially boredom central unless you critiqued every player and sought out non-existent story lines.

The first two NBA postseason rounds featured occasional competitive series, but mainly between teams not getting anywhere near the final, so they’re rendered irrelevant. (For example, who cares that Warriors-Clippers or Nets-Raptors went seven games, when even I knew those teams were dead meat the following series?)

I simply can’t get too excited about a sport that’s crowned a paltry eight different champions in three decades. If you have a Magic, Bird, Jordan, LeBron, et al, you’re set to move deep and likely take the title. The NBA celebrates the stars more than the teams.

I’ll take baseball, hockey and usually March Madness. Does the best team always take the crown? Not necessarily, but I personally want compelling postseason games, and the NBA Playoffs only deliver that sporadically.

As MSF Senior Writer Kurt Allen recently emailed me, “The NBA is teetering on the line of being an actual sports competition to ‘sports entertainment,’ where everyone knows the result. Absolutely valid. Why bother playing November to April or even the first few rounds in May?

It’s June too. This is truly baseball season — be that the College World Series, Major Leagues or a fun night at your favorite Minor League yard. Heck, if not following 70th anniversary D-Day commemorations, the MLB First-Year Player Draft is Thursday, which is always intriguing.

Five full days before the first tip to promote LeBron vs. Duncan for second straight year? I’ll watch most of these games that inexplicably end after midnight eastern time, but can’t enjoy what occurs beforehand.

About AJ Kaufman

A former schoolteacher and military historian, A.J. now works in public relations. As an MSF columnist since 2009, he supports anything baseball-related. Raised in San Diego, A.J. has since resided in numerous parts of America, including Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Ohio and Washington State. After departing the coasts in 2005, he's traveled the back roads of all 50 states and prefers the Heartland. Married to Maria, A.J. is the author of three books and enjoys reading presidential biographies.


  1. Kurt Allen says:

    Actually, it’s the referees who decide the games.

    And on the fourth fortnight of Lance Stephenson – we spend the NBA Finals talking about where he takes his migraine to next…

    • Chris Callaway says:

      LeBron is the best player and Popovich is the best coach. And that’s what you get in the finals. No surprises. They’re far and away better than the #2 person at that job, and for better or worse, that doesn’t allow for a whole heck of a lot of parity in the NBA.

      I do like the MLB playoff structure, with only four teams from each conference playing actual series to try to advance. And considering you almost never see an outlier win the title, a system like that might work for the NBA. Granted, watching the Clippers, Warriors, Rockets and the like play in the post season was entertaining, but there was never really the thought that they were serious, legitimate contenders for the title.

      • AJ Kaufman says:

        Fair enough, straddling the line there, Chris. I don’t think most people find the NBA playoffs very exciting — at least most I know, and I know a WIDE section of ages and geographical folks across the fruited plain — and they surely don’t think a FULL MONTH (longer than the entire MLB playoffs) to get through just the first two rounds is acceptable, especially with predictable results. It’s not going to change as Adam Silver is a David Stern clone and there’s too much money involved, but the TV ratings can’t be strong in April and early to mid May, no matter how much hype and over-analysis ESPN lends now that they’ve dropped NHL Playoffs.

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