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Thursday, June 24, 2004

How the NBA is Unlike the U.S. Congress

SportsProf remembers watching the nightly national news several years ago, during a time when there was an off-year Congressional election taking place. The results were rather predictable -- most incumbent members of the U.S. House of Representatives were reelected, despite the public's opinion that Congress was doing a bad job and that most members of the House should not have been reelected. One pundit quipped: "I suppose that what the public is really saying is that their representative is okay, but it's the other guys who are plum awful and should be voted out."

The reverse holds true this time of the year for the average NBA fan. Most fans are realists, and most can tell whether or not the home team has the goods to contend for the title. Most sports talk shows on the radio conclude (rightly so, given the odds), that the home team is lacking in some fundamental way and that it cannot possibly compete against, say, the four best teams in the league. Are the fans that smart, or are the barriers to a championship so formidable (Sisyphian, for the literati among you) that you have to be a complete fool, ostrich or non-fan to realize that parity is as lacking in the NBA as it is present in the NFL? Put another way, it's hard to imagine a doormat turning into a contender in one or two years' time in the NBA, but in the NFL seemingly it happens every year.

Prime evidence that management realizes that it must do something to shake up a team that either hasn't contended for a while or is on the verge of bigger things is the day of the NBA draft. Already two big trades have taken place, and from what SportsProf has read on the wire services, more are in the offing. In fact, one key prognosticator has offered that all of the lottery picks could be up for trading tonight.

So, while it seems like the names Howard, Okafor, Gordon, Pokolodzine, Harris, Deng, Childress, Iguodala and others will populate the top 10, it's hard to predict where they will be going. The NBA draft, though, usually is a pretty good show, and tonight should be no exception.

And, after this spectacle takes place, Commissioner Stern should act with the candor that most fans do about their local teams and hit the NBA's biggest problem head on: your product, the average game, is over-priced and suffers from major quality-assurance/qualiity-control issues. In plain English, it's bad.

So while you can take your game to China, to Western Europe, and all over the globe, the best think you can do, Commissioner Stern, is to take some of the pixie dust that resides in the NFL Commissioner's office (initial formulary by Pete Rozelle, enhanced by Paul Tagliabue) and sprinkle it all over your operations.

Because perhaps for an NBA fan in the U.S., the one thing more frustrating than watching Congress in action is to pluck down $65 a ticket, $15 for parking, $60+ for bad food, and more for souveniers to watch, say, the Hawks play the Clippers. That's a bad product, and that's got to change.

You can sell a lot of merchandise, you can have celebrities sitting in the front row, and you can have cool songs as the intro to your playoff games, but despite the fancy clothing, the game, stripped down to its essentials, is almost naked.