Is the NBA Destined to Catch NFL Fever?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because basketball fans should count their blessings.
By Matt Foley
Driving football diehards away from the NFL is a tall task, but this season proved to be up to the challenge. The chaotic rate of nonsensical controversy has slowed in recent weeks, and there’s no denying that the NFL boasts one of sports’ best playoffs, but the better part of this NFL season has tested just how far football fans are willing to be pushed.
After a devastating early-season stretch of injuries to star players, political protests, counterprotests, hardly presidential internet spats, an owner’s attempt to sabotage the commissioner’s contract negotiations — which were leaked to the public — and the still-inconsistent rules on penalties and player safety, television ratings took a hit. And yet football fans’ nearly unquenchable thirst proved that the NFL is here to stay. We think.
But what happens when the plights of the No Fun League crash American sports’ most entertaining party? Must those of us who were overjoyed with the return of basketball fear similar insanity? Here’s what the NBA would look like if it operated like the NFL.
OZY GENERAL’S WARNING: Handling these scorching takes may subject basketball junkies to insomnia, anxiety and stomach ulcers.
Injured Stars = Player Development
Two months into the NBA season, it’s time to start filling up that injured reserve list. LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving — take a seat. Just as Gordon Hayward’s early season injury allowed Boston’s rookie forward Jayson Tatum to learn on the fly, so too will your absence. Sure, the overall league product will suffer as fans tire of watching young players play sloppy hoops riddled with turnovers and defensive lapses, but they’ll watch anyway. By Christmas, half of the NBA’s perennial all-stars will be rooting from the sidelines.
Bad Calls and Inconsistent Rulings = Great Debate
No sport is immune to the human element of officiating. That’s part of what makes games great. But when leagues begin to lose sight of the basic tenets of what qualifies as a catch, illegal hit, personal foul or made three-pointer, that’s what really leads to great debate. Did Russell Westbrook actually complete the act of scoring? What was Enes Kanter’s intent when he barreled his way to the bucket? Newsflash, NBA: More hotly debated calls leads to an increase in web traffic, venomous radio show callers and Skip Bayless opinions. In other words, debate that dominates the news cycle. If NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is smart, and I know he is, he’ll also hire a crop of former officials as “rules analysts” for every game. They always seem to get it right.
Potential Mutinies = Better Business
With $5.9 billion in revenue and a recently enacted global plan to spread the Good Word of Hoops, the NBA is printing money. But if Silver wants to vault into double-digit billions like his pals at the NFL, he’ll take note of the spontaneous reality show drama transpiring behind football’s curtain. The season-long storyline of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s contract negotiations and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ alleged attempts to depose Goodell have been nearly as interesting as the season itself — an entirely fresh, drama-based revenue stream.
Could hoops have its own Jones? As an increasing number of energetic, new-money billionaires buy NBA franchises, the potential for empowered businessmen seeking to oust Silver only increases. I’d keep my eyes wide and ears open in the vicinity of Tilman Fertitta and Steve Ballmer if I were the commissioner. Luckily for Silver, he’s a likable man who’s good at his job and has not requested a $19 million salary increase.
Presidential Twitter Spats = Bad for Business … Maybe
Wait, President Donald Trump already picked a preseason fight with NBA players, just as he’s done with the NFL. If the president is intent on interrupting the basketball conversation too and getting rid of one of red and blue America’s last refuges from political division, then we’re right on track! Carry on.