Friday, May 30, 2008

Nuggets need not apply.

Jason Whitlock thinks that one of the reasons the NBA is enjoying significantly higher ratings this year over last year is in part because the current participants of the playoffs (now down to Lakers, Celtics, Pistons) don't all look like "prison-ready brutes," and he refers specifically to the excessive tattooing undergone by a large number of NBA players. I have to agree, but only to a point. Last year's Finals teams didn't look like brutes, but ratings were in the toilet because the matchup was regarded as boring. Which, honestly, it was.

But the problem David Stern has is not just with "boring" teams. The Spurs are regarded as boring because they aren't young, fast, and don't run a lot. But the perception of teams who run a lot of half-court sets, picks-and-rolls and other basketball fundamentals is largely a product of who the NBA and media outlets market. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. These organizations market the teams and players they think and assume people want to see, and as a result they condition people to expect that, and then when people turn on the TV and don't see Kobe waltzing into the lane to dunk over some 7-foot center every 30 seconds, they decide it's boring and they change the channel.

Jordan's gone, guys. Stop marketing individuals, stop marketing dunks and buzzer-beater treys. Start marketing the game for what it is 95% of the time. If people can't accept basketball for what it actually is (that is, not a bunch of highlights of breakaway dunks strung together), then at this point you're only delaying the inevitable and the league is going under. But we all know that won't happen. We all know basketball is here to stay. So start educating people on the game. Help them to understand how the game works on a deeper level, and help them to appreciate fundamental offense and good, solid defense. Why do people around the world love soccer? There's a reason. People still watch baseball in droves, and that's one of the slowest sports on earth. And guess what, hockey is a very fast-paced game and how many people are watching that these days?

No, David Stern's problem is not because of teams like the Spurs, Jazz and Pistons. It's because he doesn't know how to properly promote his league, and while he and his colleagues run around trying to push the "new" MJs on us, fans drop by the wayside one by one. Couple that with the inconsistent reffing and the image problem Whitlock refers to, an image problem reflected in numerous polls conducted pitting the league against other major sports, and he's going to have a real problem on his hands real soon.

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