The Ruder Reality

For the first time in over two decades Portland fans don’t havea home team to root for in the NBA playoffs. Without thepossibility of a 1977-style championship run, you are likely comingto realize what most of the country already knows – the NBAplayoffs are unwatchable.

Remember in high school how at the end of the year the “cool”kids had a party? As the year came to a close, word trickled outand by the party night the whole school, including some kids whonever even made it to class, showed up and proceeded tosystematically destroy the cool kids’ house?

Thanks to the inclusion of 16 of the league’s 29 teams that’sbasically what the NBA playoffs have been reduced to – a busted-upparty. The difference is that in high school it was fun to laugh atthe cool kids getting the comeuppance they deserved, while there isnothing funny at all about the two months of sleep-inducingmediocrity that results from the NBA playoff crashers.

The cool kids in the NBA happen to be the 8-10 quality teamsthat earned their way into the postseason by playing at a highlevel throughout the season. While purists may scoff at the declinein the NBA game over the past 20 years, when played at a high levelby good teams, basketball is still one of the most excitingsports.

Thanks to the increasing number of young, unrefined playerscoming into the game and the growing egos of the�ber-wealthy players, the closest most teams get to playingat that high level is when they put their faces next to thetelevision screen during ESPN Classic reruns of games from the late’80s.

Every professional sports league has its bad teams – the ArizonaCardinals, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays – the difference is, in othersports bad teams don’t get to play in the playoffs.

After the first 18 games of the first playoff round, thehigher-seeded team was 17-1. 17-1!! You can almost picture theVegas oddsmakers laughing into the blank faces of the optimists whoalways bet on the underdogs thinking that at least a few will pullthe upset to help them break even. “You fools,” they’d say withsmug grins. “Look at the pathetic teams you’re betting on!”

Two teams in this year’s playoffs had losing records for theseason, another two finished at .500. That’s a fourth of theplayoff field that failed to have a winning record. I can see theadvertising slogan, “The NBA: Where winning doesn’t matter.”

Having so many party crashers wouldn’t matter if there was somequick and painless way to eliminate them. Maybe a Survivor-stylereward challenge where the weak teams are put on an island andwhichever ones smoke weed or commit felonies get kicked out? Thatwould get rid of six or eight pretenders within hours and it mightactually provide some humorous and enjoyable moments.

Instead, the NBA actually decided to extend the playoffs lastyear. Out with a best-of-five opening round, in with abest-of-seven.

Why prolong the misery? As with everything else in sports, thesimple answer is money. More teams means more games. More gamesmeans more tickets, more broadcasts, more advertising and moremoney.

The only problem is people aren’t watching.

The NBA playoffs were a staple of NBC’s early ’90s rise topower, however, they’ve now been banished almost entirely to cable.When it came time to renew its broadcast contract a year ago theNBA was unable to find a major network willing to show the bulk ofits games.

The profit-first world of broadcasting saw right through theholes that had been created in the NBA’s product by its own questto fill its coffers.

So if you can’t, or don’t, tune in during the next few monthsconsider yourself lucky. This party was over before it started.