Explaining These Boring NBA Playoffs

The Rise of This Year’s NBA Finals

Simple Times to Start

Back on October 25, 2016, the Golden State Warriors were still getting over the hangover of the Cleveland Cavaliers, while the city of Cleveland celebrated their first major sports title since 1964. Remember when JR Smith wouldn’t put his shirt back on? Seven months later, it seems the NBA fans will watch a grudge match in the Finals. It is a rivalry that should be celebrated and enjoyed, a story that spans multiple teams, remember all it took to get Lebron James back to Cleveland, and nine championships, and a Heatles era. So why does it feel so boring?

The Dynasty Debate

The NBA is not immune to a dynasty discussion; although the teams at the top are different, the lack of parity in the league has not changed.  At one time the dynasties fuelled rivalries that spanned from coast to coast, iconic teams like the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons had to make themselves into anti-dynasty teams. Today, there is no anti-identity team. The Cavaliers and the Warriors have the same personal and motive. They took players with exceptional gifts, built around a “big 3” and then used whatever savvy and funds they had left to create a decent supporting cast. There is no real antithesis to both their game plans. Is that why this Finals match up seems so inevitable and so obvious?

Chris Haynes of ESPN.com wrote, “I thought teams would compete a little harder…When you watch Cleveland play, you’re only watching one side of the good basketball. That’s kind of weak.”

How the Playoffs Started

The NBA playoffs weren’t always filled with talk about being boring. In fact, the NBA playoffs started off historically promising. In October 2014, the NBA signed a 9-year $24 billion TV contract. That is $2.67 billion dollars a year for untold revenue. Not only was October 2016 the start of this season, the reign of Cleveland, and the redemptive journey of the Warriors, it also was the first year of this new TV deal. The fans have tuned in more than ever. The first round of the playoffs saw double-digit increases for all channels broadcasting NBA or 12% increase to ABC, ESPN, TNT and NBA TV. That amounts to 3.1 million viewers.

It was the most-viewed first round in 3 years. In this changing landscape of digital viewing and binge watching, live views are hard to gather. Yet, here was the NBA christening their new TV deal with record breaking numbers. People were interested. There was a glut of intrigue and possibilities. The NBA playoffs featured teams that didn’t make the cut last year; The Utah Jazz,  The Washington Wizards,  Milwaukee Bucks and the Chicago Bulls all clinched spots in their division. Fans wanted to see what would happen, they were excited. So how did we get here? Kevin Durant suggests we stop watching.


Reason to Keep Watching

Dynasties are a good thing and a historical legacy. Last Word on Sports debated this in the past, “Death of Dominance and the Rise of Parity in Professional Sports“.  If fans were to complain about a lack of parity in the league, in fact, they would be correct. In the entire history of the NBA, no team past 3rd has ever won the championship. However, if someone were to point out that there was more competition in the past they need to take off those rose tinted glasses. Dynasties create more than rivalries; they create upsets and force teams to adapt. The league has actually gained more parity in recent years. The NBA playoffs are not boring because there is more of a chance for another team besides the 1st place team than ever before. Thus competition is higher.

The NBA playoffs did run into a problem: the injury bug. The dreaded bug struck the NBA when it would hurt the most. When the competition was the stiffest and most intriguing, the injury bug turned the Conference Finals into a snooze fest. What happened was not the result of lack of parity. It was the injuries to the stars and the timing of those injuries that hurt the competition.

In the end, it is not a giant conspiracy. These Finals were doomed thanks to the invisible bug that bit the wrong players, at the wrong time. What do fans get in return? The grudge match that they wanted! The Finals match up that will spur on debates and fuel fire for years. This is the NBA’s Return of the Jedi. The two Finals before this was. This is the time when the winner must face the darkest battle and ultimate test. The biggest twists come in Return of the Jedi and this Final has proven so far to be the same. So do not listen to Kevin Durant. Keep watching.