Caron Butler, Iman Shumpert, Baron Davis, Derrick Rose and Chris Bosh. The first couple of weeks of the NBA playoffs has seen a rash of injuries (most in the Eastern conference) from top to bottom that not only affect how the playoffs will turn out, but ultimately affect the bottom line of the league and how the game should be played in the future.
The question is: will the league be willing to do anything about it or will David Stern sweep the issue aside as he has done so far?
When the NBA lockout ended last fall, both the players and owners agreed they wanted to squeeze as much money out of each other as possible with whatever they could do for the remaining season. The result was a 66 game season played in about 120 days that started on Christmas Day. In theory this made sense, after the last lockout games didn’t resume until January 20th and the season was shortened to 50 games, so the key drop off amount of games seems to be 16.
But, in this season the results to the game have been a disaster.
The regular season was marred by not only poor play by many top teams, but even by mid-season it was apparent that injuries were mounting up, on cornerstone teams of the NBA. Without the long season to rest key players a horribly intense schedule has finally caught up with key teams in the playoffs.
While Western conference has remained shockingly healthy so far, the East has been devastated, and this devastation hurts not only on-court performance but the NBA bottom line as well. The first round series between the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks was supposed to an old school 90’s throwback series featuring superstars like Miami’s big three (Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James) and New York’s hottest discovery Jeremy Lin, along with veterans like Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire.
Instead Lin was out with injury the entire series, his backup Baron Davis was lost to injury during the series and Iman Shumpert, the other Knicks rookie sensation, tore his ACL. So much for the old school throwback battle.
The top seed in the East, the Chicago Bulls, lost Derrick Rose, which allowed them to get beaten by the lowly 76ers in the first round, and now to top it all off Chris Bosh the third part of the Big 3 in Miami strained his abdominal muscles in the first game of round 2 and is out indefinitely.
Why is this a major problem for the league? Aren’t injuries just a part of the game?
Injuries are a part of the game in football. The expectation is that your QB may miss a game, your wide receiver may miss 2 or 3 but in the end, football is about teams. The NBA, with no helmets, exposed flesh and a game that is played so much closer to the fans, the stars are what sell the sport. More importantly stars in big markets sell the sport. Unlike football, where people will watch the Super Bowl no matter who plays, NBA ratings are tied to general public excitement about the stars – not just the teams.
So when Los Angeles meets the Boston Celtics in the finals of 2008 the casual fan got excited. And when the San Antonio Spurs make it to the finals you get the lowest ratings in NBA history.
With Chicago out of the running and Miami missing a key player there is a chance that the Eastern conference will produce a winner that is low on star power, and low on excitement. The West is likely to give us Oklahoma City or San Antonio – two small market teams that have stars who mean nothing to your average viewer. Now might be a good time for Stern to step in and make some changes to the future NBA schedules, because if the NBA suffers a lockout followed by lousy unwatchable finals, all of that posturing through the summer and fall will have been a waste.
DR. JASON JOHNSON, Politic365 Chief Political Correspondent, is a professor of Political Science at Hiram College in Ohio and author of the book Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell. You can read more at www.drjasonjohnson.com or follow him on Twitter @Drjasonjohnson