Why Doctors Recommend That Vegas Showgirls Dance Naked
As football winds down and basketball ramps up, TMQ pauses, as he does at this time each year, to thank God the NFL is not the NBA. Thank the football gods, anyway.
Pro football games may not necessarily be well-played but usually are exciting, high-amperage affairs where players and fans really care about the outcome. In the NBA, half the league's clubs are just goin' through the motions from opening day on. NFL players care about outcomes because each W or L means so much in the standings of a 16-game season—and because they can be cut, there being no guaranteed contracts in football. Many NBA players care little about outcomes because each W or L doesn't mean much in an 82-game season. (Yes, each W or L means even less in the 162-game baseball season—but since it's inherently fun to be outdoors in summertime, the calculus here is different for fans.) NBA players also don't care because, for all intents and purposes, they cannot be cut—allNBA contracts being guaranteed, even for perennial benchwarmers. (Ten-day try-out contracts are the only exception.) I don't mean to invoke the cliché that NBA players aren't hustling because they are—everyone on the court is sweating like crazy. But I ask you: Do they look like they care?
Other huge gaps separate pro football from pro basketball. In the NFL there are high-scoring 45-42 games and low-scoring 13-9 games; games that feature the pass and games that feature the run; there are games where teams try wild things and games when teams go conservative; there are games decided by a few sudden big breaks and games decided by long accumulations of field-position maneuvers; there are games played in heat, cold, rain, and snow. In the NBA, pretty much every game ends 98-93; there's nothing remotely like the variety found in the NFL. Even now that the NBA allows the zone defense, in strategy terms pro basketball games remain fungible, each pretty much the same as the next.
What especially separates the leagues is the playoff comparison. Last season, TMQ did a column lamenting that the NFL spends months and millions building up to a postseason that flames out in a mere 11 games. Count 'em and weep—four wild-card tilts this weekend, four divisionals next weekend, two championship games, and one Super Bowl, season over. The NBA, by contrast, plays about 75 postseason games annually. Last year's column suggested that since NFL playoff games are fantastic, there should be more of them. A barrage of reader mail convinced TMQ this view is totally wrongheaded: The scarcity of NFL playoff games is part of the greatness of the sport.
Scarcity alone makes each NFL playoff game more valuable, but the real beauty of just 11 postseason games is its effect on the regular season.Because the NFL playoffs are so condensed, each regular season game matters muchmore in football than in any other professional sport, making the regular season consistently exciting: whereas most regular-season NBA games mean nothing and are forgotten the moment they conclude. And because playoff home-field advantage is more valuable in football than in any other sport, even leading teams fight like crazy for every possible W to improve seeding. Going into the final weekend this year, nine of the 15 NFL contests had postseason implications. Check the NBA schedule, and you'll find dozens of meaningless games by Valentine's Day.
For humanitarian reasons, we won't beat up on basketball for its current low caliber of play. Caliber was high a decade ago when Michael, Magic, and Larry Bird were in their primes: Maybe basketball is just in a down talent cycle. It is, however, fair to beat up on the NBA for its preposterous solution to current low-caliber play—high-school kids.
In last June's basketball draft, the first, second, and fourth selections overall were high-schoolers. What could the NBA have been thinking? Games are ugly, the players have poor fundamentals and insist on disorganized street ball—so we'll solve it by bringing in high-school kids! As best TMQ can figure, NBA management is so embarrassed about the glorified-pickup-game character of the current league that it is trying to make today's starters look good in comparison by finding players whose fundamentals are even worse. Maybe the acronym will be changed to Now Based on Adolescents.
Most high-school kids glommed by the NBA will never play much, of course. But pulling promising prep players directly into the pros will prevent them from becoming college stars. This, in turn, will make college basketball less interesting, diluting the sport overall. And instead of kids maturing into college stars who generate excitement when drafted by the NBA, no fan is excited when teams tab 18-year-old who-dats whom no one has ever seen play. If the NBA consciously set out to drag down the level of its product, it couldn't have come up with much better than raiding high schools.
Why, if nothing else, African-American thinkers don't fight this—glamorizing as it does the notion of skipping college, which is a formula for keeping African-Americans disadvantaged as a group—TMQ cannot grasp. At least such madness is unimaginable in the NFL, where college juniors are the youngest eligible. If anyone proposed allowing high-school players to jump directly to the NFL, football would laugh out loud. Now, could this approach—which is called "having standards"—possibly relate to the fact that NFL ratings remain strong and attendance keeps setting records while ratings and ticket sales for the NBA are in steady decline?
High-school madness was epitomized by the June 2001 basketball draft in which Shane Battier, the top collegian and a wonderful, mature player who finished four years of college, was not picked until after three high-school kids. Battier might make the All-Star game as a rookie; the high-school kids who went before him (Kwame Brown, Tyson Chandler, and Eddy Curry) are ridiculous non-entities. Presumably if last June, Battier had been an 18-year-old rather than a graduate of Duke University, NBA teams would have lusted for him—he's immature! He's useless! Instead Battier was experienced and strong on fundamentals, and so slipped in the draft.