Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Why the NBA is King

For my money the NBA is the most exciting sport we have going right now. Don’t get me wrong, I love my football and baseball and follow them both closer than I do the NBA. But it is foolish to think that the NFL or MLB have as much going for them as the NBA does. We only need to look at this years yawn-fest World Series, where the only drama came because the cities the teams play in have great fan bases. The NFL has its problems too. There are a lot of really terrible teams and a few really good ones, with a strange grey area in between. Honestly, how many teams have a realistic chance at winning the Super Bowl? Maybe 5?

The NBA on the other hand is right on the doorstep of being the new golden age of basketball. We have amazing young stars in LeBron, Wade, and Carmello. One of which is going for his second ring. If any combination of those three met in the playoffs this season it would be guaranteed instant classic material. There is a huge population of still great veterans trying to lead their teams to championships. Dirk, Kobe, Pierce, Shaq, Kidd, McGrady, Billups, Iverson, Duncan, Nash, Carter, Amare, and Garnett among others. Then there are the rising stars that aren’t quite household names but are still great to watch: Andre Kirilenko, Chris Bosh, Gilbert Arenas, Ben Gordon, Chris Paul, and Shawn Marion. That’s about 20 legitimate stars playing for about 15 different teams. And that was off the top of my head. I can say this without any reservation: the NBA has the deepest talent pool of any of the three major sports. And it isn’t even that close. Even the “basement” teams have something to cheer for. Your Bobcats have Adam Morrison and Gerald Wallace. The Raptors have Bosh. Orlando has Darko, Jameer Nelson, and the monster that is Dwight Howard. Hell even the Knicks have Channing Frye and dunk champ Nate Robinson. Almost every team has some shimmer of hope, and that is a very good thing.

As slow as the NBA playoffs are (and it’s like glacier slow) no one can argue the best teams don’t come out on top. Keep your upsets for March Madness. I want the best teams playing for the championship at the end of the season. The Heat/Mavs series last season was a good, if not great one. But one thing is for sure: they were the two best teams when all was said and done. The Suns? Maybe. Detroit? You could make a case. But all in all I don’t think anyone was asking the question, “these are really the two best teams in the NBA?” I know I was when watching the Tigers throw away the World Series, the same series that an 83 win team (around .500) ended up winning. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for parity. I like the fact that the New York Jets are 4-4 instead of 1-7. Parity keeps things interesting and gives fans hope. But there is a fine line between parity and dilution.

Although the NBA has expanded quite a bit in the last 25 years or so and a lot of 40-45 win teams have a chance to make it to the playoffs they will be exposed in a seven game series. The NBA, more so than any other sport, rewards consistency in the playoffs. In the NFL you can get hot and string together four wins (not saying it is easy, but it can happen) like the Steelers in 2005 or the Patriots in 1986. A little luck, a few calls going your way, and next thing you know you’re in the Super Bowl. In the NBA you have to win four games. Every round. Upsets almost never happen beyond the first round because so much goes into winning an NBA game.

Back to the main point: talent. Is there any more marketable trio in all of sports (maybe ever) than LeBron, D-Wade, and Melo? They have almost universal appeal, everyone, everywhere loves to watch these guys play. You can’t say that about Jeter, Manning, Ortiz, Brady, or anyone else. I would absolutely pay money to watch LeBron play any team, not just my local Celtics. Would I pay to watch Peyton Manning throw against the Detroit Lions? No way. And don’t even get me started on the playoffs. LeBron vs. Wade in the East finals would be some Bird vs. Dominique or Jordan vs. the Pistons type stuff. Any given moment either guy could go off and drop 50-15-10 or nail some buzzer beater for the clincher. There is nothing like the dramatic face offs in the NBA. Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady is great, no doubt. But they never actually face each other in the game. Wade could stuff LeBron on defense, or LeBron could dunk one in Wades face. Brady isn’t going to pick off Peyton for a touchdown.

By my count there are at least 10 teams that have a chance to win the NBA championship. The usual suspects will be there: Spurs, Suns, Mavs, Heat, Cavs, and Pistons. That’s fine by me. Why wouldn’t I want the best teams competing at the highest level? There still great aren’t they? Even teams like the Bulls, Grizzlies, Pacers, Nets, Lakers, Clippers, and Kings have a chance. The NBA has managed to expand without diluting talent to the point of no return. Almost every single team has enough talent to contend. Can Pirates fans say that? What about Raider fans? And Browns fans? Devil Rays? Royals? I would take being a Knicks fan right now (shudder) over being a Royals fan in a heartbeat. There just not nearly as big a gap between the bottom and the middle in the NBA as there is between the bottom and the middle of baseball and football.

It’s not just LeBron and company. Can Kobe put up 100 points? Can Dirk get any better? How many insane passes will Nash make? Can the Heat repeat? How many balls will Ben Wallace send into the seats in Chicago? Will Ron Artest kill someone? Is Shaq going to hold up? What is up with that new ball everyone is talking about? There is just so much to follow and watch it’s dizzying. The 06-07 NBA season promises to be a great one. Even better than *gasp* football.

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