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?
Jon 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.