Monday, May 22, 2006

The NBA: Excitingly Horrible

While I believe this year's playoff series' have been way above average, I still have some major problems with the NBA that can all be summed up in one image: The team bench. Or lack of one. Just having started watching intermittent NBA playoff games, I kept being drawn to the image of the head coach kneeling down on the sidelines and having some 12 year old kid sitting right behind him.

It seems that in the NBA, there are several seats on the first row next to the media table that go to the rich of the rich. In all real basketball leagues, those seats are reserved for the assistant coaches and the players. You have to look all the way down past the baseline to start finding players in their warmups. In fact, the NBA gives all new meaning to the term bench players. Usually referring to the scrubs who sit at the end of the bench and rarely get playing time, these players end up sitting on the floor in the NBA, right behind the photographers. What type of league is this where coaches have to be careful that they don't obstruct the view of the fans and players give up their view of the game they are playing so that we can get better pictures.

In the same way that the NFL has become the ultimate representative of gladiatorial majesty, the NBA has tried to imagine itself as an indoor spectacle of giants and heroes. Not there is anything wrong with highlighting the profound of the sport through extraordinary media coverage, but this game should belong to the players. Despite their money, arrogance, and pride (at least in the majority), it is still their game to play and they shouldn't have to sit on the floor to make room for the fan.

For marketers and ad salesmen, sports is all about making the fan feel important. Putting him in the shoes of power. We have the propagation of theory that fan support wins games (it does occasionally), that players are responsible to all of us, and that we should get to see everything in replay up close with the sound turned up.

However, I still believe that there is something powerful about sitting out in left field and seeing a tiny stick pitch to a medium size stick and knowing that guy is going to be second-all time in career HR's. There's something incredible about watching Ken Lucas' amazing zone coverage and miraculous interceptions and not having to know his feelings about women. We all want more access, and yet our original lack of success was what made the sport so incredible. It was being able to ask that star college first baseman for his autograph even if he is working in an investment firm now. Those moments, and we've all had them, were powerful. They moved us and stuck with us. I fear sometimes that the opportunity is beginning to diminish. Our access has made us complacent and the sport holds less profundity.

The athletes always were human. The accomplishments were always comprable to the sacrifices that good people make everyday. But now they've lost the ability to influence people. Heck I'm the one who is sitting nearer the ref and yelling at him, why should I care what the coach is doing.

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