NBA Finals: Excitement, sportsmanship at its finest
Watching the immediate aftermath of the Miami Heat's championship victory over the San Antonio Spurs was to watch sportsmanship at its finest.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich immediately sought out Heat stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and coach Erik Spoelstra and gave them congratulatory hugs.
James made sure to seek out Spurs stars Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to congratulate them on a well-played and hard-played series. There was no trash-talking, just tons of respect from the four-time champion Spurs and the back-to-back champion [three times overall] Heat.
The NBA would have more fans if the entire season was like the playoffs in general and this season's Finals in particular.
King James made clutch shot after clutch shot. Just when it seemed Miami was about to take control, Duncan and understudies Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard brought San Antonio back until finally, Ginobilli's turnovers caught up with the Spurs, Duncan missed a point-blank shot and James and Shane Battier made too many clutch baskets.
Folks who didn't have a dog in this hunt were riveted to their TV sets this week. Those who did were loud and raucous.
Contrast that with last Nov. 29 when the Spurs paid their lone regular-season trip to Miami. San Antonio was finishing a six-game, 10-day road trip and had a home game with division-leading Memphis two days later.
Popovich, as he has done more and more consistently in recent seasons, benched the 37-year-old Duncan, sending him, Ginobili, 36, Parker [also on the north side of 30] and Green back to San Antone early while the skeleton Spurs were torched by the Heat 105-100 on national TV.
Commissioner David Stern, who also lavished praise on the Spurs Thursday night, was not amused on Nov. 30, fining the organization $250,000 for denying the fans of Miami the opportunity to see Duncan, Ginobili and Parker.
Well, the denizens of South Beach saw plenty of San Antonio's Big Three the last two weeks.
Pop was just dealing with the reality of NBA life – 82 games. Sixteen of the league's 30 teams advance to the playoffs. One game rarely means anything in the league and fatigue is a big factor. What's important is May and June, not November and December. Pop knows this, the players know this and, obviously, so do the fans.
NBA arenas are rock-concert loud during the playoffs. Tune in to a regular-season game and it's almost like an opera crowd in the stands - applaud politely only when necessary. It's like being in a library. I don't know if the crowds are really that quiet or is it that the TV networks don't bring out all their crowd micas for regular-season games and do for the playoffs.
During the college basketball season, the big TV games sound like a big party. Switch over to a typical pro game and the drop in the energy level is a recipe to cure insomnia.
Yes, baseball plays more games, but has fewer playoff teams. The Grand Ol' Game is a game of spurts whereas basketball is constant movement, thus, baseball isn't as physically taxing, though I'm sure it's every bit mentally challenging. Also, baseball is more of a regular-season game as it has become a regional sport. Quick, can the typical sports fan in middle Tennessee name the participants in last year's World Series? If it's not the Braves, Cardinals or Reds from this general region or a team with some national appeal, most of us will tune out baseball in late October for football. The Tigers and Giants won't cut it for most of us here.
Like baseball, the NFL has about the right amount of playoff openings and, at least until the final game of the season when most playoff berths are decided, the games are played with meaning. Then the playoffs are just that much better.
The NBA needs to lop off about 20-25 games from the regular-season schedule and hold the playoffs in April and May instead of crowning the champion at the summer solstice. But that won't happen. Eliminating games cuts off revenue streams from the owners.
Actually, the problem may not be the NBA so much as it is the game of basketball. It has long been billed as a tournament game at the college and high school level. The NBA playoffs are their tournament, just under a different title. But at least college schedules are generally constructed with conference games coming the last 2/3 of the schedule, making games more important as the season ticks down to the climax. The atmosphere gets better, while on TNT, the pros are just going through the motions.
At least until the playoffs.