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All Points West: Who’s watching the NBA?
May 20, 2016 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez
So far, it’s the Oklahoma City Thunder with a one-game lead on the Golden State Warriors in the West Final as of May 18. The series could end as early as May 24, while the East Final featuring the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors starts the series’ game three on May 21. The 2016 NBA Finals first game of a 7-game series is scheduled for June 2. Yet, there has been little to no buzz about who’ll make it to the championship.

Granted, we’re talking west Nebraska. In reality, there’s only one sport that matters, football, but nationally and/or globally (if you think the United States is the center of the universe), at least according to Forbes’ writer Roger Groves, who in December said, the NBA is experiencing unprecedented levels of popularity specifically comparing the association to the NFL, which set records for Super Bowl viewership, somewhere in the neighborhood of 115 million around the globe. Through an economic lens, maybe? If you haven’t seen a game lately, you haven’t missed much.

Though the Golden State Warrior’s historic run, finishing the season with a 73-9 record, may last long into the future, it lacks the total package. The Warriors led by Stephen Curry, with his magician’s slight-of-hand, and Klay Thompson, the other half of the Splash Brothers, make opponents look silly, like they’re standing still. Yet, there’s star power, and then there’s star power, and Curry and Thompson lack the larger-than-life personae of a Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan. Curry is more Chris Rock than Liam Neeson or Matt Damon. Then add the requisite role players. There’s flamboyancy, if there is such a word, as in Dennis Rodman, or playing a supporting role, as in bad boy Bill Laimbeer, or arguably personality as in the Round Mound of Rebound, TNT analyst Charles (Chuck) Barkley.

All four teams competing in the NBA’s semifinals are mid-major markets. Cleveland’s population barely cracks 390,000. Toronto, which is in Canada, doesn’t really give American fans a whole lot to cheer. Oklahoma City sits in a region not too far from NBA saturated Texas. And, Golden State, doesn’t have much on which to rest its laurels. It was a league patsy for decades, even worse than the Clippers before that franchise moved from San Diego to Los Angeles. The City of Angels revived it to some degree. Think, location, location, location.

Two more factors affect the association’s reputation, the analysts, and how the product is packaged and talked about in the mainstream. It doesn’t strike the kind of chord it did 20 years ago, when the association offered up major stars in major markets. Now, like G.S., San Antonio, Cleveland, and Toronto, the association is trying to serve up team ball to a “me-generation” nation, who say the quality of the game has gone down, way down.

The Wall Street Journal reported, on Dec. 21, 2015: … the average audience for TNT’s national games is down 8.2 percent from 2014, according to Nielsen, while ESPN’s national games are down 5.6 percent. Both cable networks also saw early-season losses in the valuable demographic of adults ages 18 to 49, with TNT off by 12.7 percent, and ESPN down 4.5 percent through Dec. 17, 2015. These drops are part of a steady decline in the NBA’s cable viewership since the 2012 lockout season. NBA audiences last season fell 10 percent on ESPN to 1.5 million viewers and 12 percent on TNT to 1.7 million—their lowest since 2008.

Addressing the NBA’s popularity was The Big Lead, a USA Today Sports blog, which said the NBA cannot become the world’s most popular sports league until it solves intentional fouling, mainly pointing to a game played between the Detroit Pistons and the Houston Rockets in December. The home team Rockets’ forward K.J. McDaniels committed five consecutive fouls on big man Andre Drummond, all intentional, and all away from the ball. Drummond is the worst free throw shooter in the NBA at 35.5 percent. No exaggeration. And, go figure.

Coaches started to implement the hack-a-player tactic when they faced the Los Angeles Lakers and big man Shaquille O’Neal. Why? Well if your team was down against a premiere NBA team, such as L.A. in its heyday, you were taking your chances defending him or superstar guard Kobe Bryant. Down low, Shaq, would literally push defenders aside for the oft easy dunk. Given that teams have fouls to give, and no-name bench players to give them, why not?
Well, the 7-foot-1, 325-pound center was one of the worst at the charity stripe. From 1992 when he entered the league to 2011 when he closed out his Hall-of-Fame career in Boston, Shaq ranged between 46-59 percent. That meant, there was a better chance he’d make only 1 point of the 2 points he might have made with a crashing dunk, or ideally, zero. An ancillary benefit was knocking him off his game, frustrating him enough for one of the revolving door coaches, including Phil Jackson, to bench him.

The game turned ugly. It might as well have been a hockey match. No offense to the guys on ice, but wearing oversized pads and carrying a big stick, doesn’t give anyone the right to commit assault, too. These are, after all, GAMES. All I can say, is maybe basketball might get it right. For now, expect college’s one and done players to dilute the talent. They are the epitome of not ready for prime time. The chances of proposing these players reviving a franchise ala a savior-like NFL quarterback are close to nil, under the harsh arena lights – there’s pressure. Then there’s fan pressure.

So, that leaves me asking, what’s the next big step for the NBA?

Not these finals. Next season may have the Answer – and I don’t mean Allen Iverson.

Until then, Go Big Red!
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