Wednesday, June 4, 2008

NBA Finals: Wake Me Up When They're Over

The NBA Finals are upon us. If only someone cared about this year's teams.

Since there is nothing particularly noteworthy about the current teams (or the current league, for that matter), commentators have decided to make these Finals about the Association's halcyon days of yore. Sports Business Daily dubbed them, "History repeated." And Michael Wilbon intones in the Washington Post that the meeting of the L.A. Lakers and Boston Celtics in the Finals, given their history, "is a godsend for the league and television partner ABC after years of declining interest."

Since Dennis Rodman retired, the most exciting thing to happen in the NBA was the around the clock vigil kept on Shaquille O'Neal's toe back in 2001. In a sport with only five starters, and where only Rip Hamilton is hidden by protective headgear, personality is everything. And the current NBA's personality, with stars as bland as Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, is the sports world's equivalent of Ambien-CR.

Granted, Kobe Bryant occasionally provides a spark, but even he lacks the quirky uniqueness that drew urban fans to the NBA in the league's early days. Michael Jordan--with his penchant for gambling and cigars coupled with his lack of fidelity to basketball (remember his affair with baseball?)--made him the NBA's Bill Clinton, maybe even its JFK. Kobe, on the other hand, repented of his transgressions and came back into the fold, a new man. He brought the NBA into the era of George W. Bush.

Fans are so desperate for a controversial player like Bill Lambeer or a shoot-from-the-hip coach like Red Auerebach that, since they can't find it on the court, they pay to see it at the movies. Will Ferrell's character Jackie Moon taps into this longing for a game with personality. But in arenas today, instead of Semi-Pro we get Hoosiers... without the upset.

If "history repeated" is such a boon, it is because today's antiseptic NBA has no intriguing narratives, no character (unless the ubiquitous tattoos, by themselves, equal originality). Rather than giving us players we fallen fans can relate to and cheer for, it provides players forced through a corporate mold, signed primarily to hawk more jerseys and sell more Redbull. It may appeal to soccer moms but, like so many modern American sports, it has lost touch with its raucous beginnings and now reflects America's corporate consumer culture. It is Disneyland on the hard court.

While these Finals may help increase sales, they will do little to resurrect any of the NBA's great story lines or to pump life back into a colorless sport.

1 comment:

marc said...

Sports expert that I am, I think it looks great! Now which website are we going to play "Google Analytics" Risk with? This one or Merimee?