Every friend I have on Facebook was talking about Christmas this weekend. Roughly 18 percent were inundated with the holiday spirit, presumably catalyzed by a tryptophan−induced food coma, and wrote about how excited they were to move from Thanksgiving to our glorious Christian nation’s next major holiday.
The remaining 82 percent all posted some derivation of the following: “The NBA is coming back. Christmas has come early!”
Comparing the return of a league whose labor negotiations have dragged on for far too long to the most triumphant of all holidays is a tall order, especially given that the past few months have felt like spending Christmas Eve trapped in a windowless closet with no clock. We know the end is out there. We know that Christmas will eventually arrive. But for the meantime, we’re in the dark, wishing and hoping for what could and should be, for that joyous occasion when Mommy and Daddy stop bickering and let us out to play.
So now we’re free to gallivant around in basketball heaven, to enjoy the lovable sounds of a Dirk Nowitzki swish, of David Stern counting his money and of the succulent boos raining down on LeBron James. Christmas indeed.
Attraction to the NBA reached an unprecedented level, and why not? The upstart Mavericks took down the big, bad Heat in the Finals, buoyed by a sweet−shooting German and a shifty Puerto Rican. Blake Griffin threw down a few dunks here and there. The eighth−seeded Grizzlies upset the Spurs in the first round. A nation divided focused its attention on South Beach. The Decision happened. Shaq and Phil Jackson retired.
The reaction seen across Facebook is admittedly childish, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. Sport possesses the power to revert us back to our childhoods, to conjure up images of heartbreak and passion. That’s why sport exists as such a great uniting presence in the world; for nine innings or four quarters, we are all children, giddy at seeing our idols perform on the biggest stage. So why shouldn’t the return of an entity we treasured so dearly evoke strong passion? Why shouldn’t we post — the 21st−century version of shouting from the rooftops, apparently — about how the CBA agreement is a Christmas miracle?
Perhaps I’m reading too much into this comparison. Then again, that’s all this column is good for. So let’s take this metaphor a step further: NBA fans are children. The announcement of the season’s salvation is like Christmas come early, which means we’re a little greedy to expect two Christmases in the same year. Now, what happens if we follow the general trajectory of childish greed, that we want what we can’t have? What if the NBA season is that superawesomeomg remote−control helicopter toy we always wanted, but once New Year’s Eve rolls around, we’ve stashed it in the attic along with the pet rocks and Crazy Bones?
Back in March 2004, the NBA reached its lowest TV ratings ever, and was routinely getting outdrawn by other sports, including the NCAA Div. II basketball title game and a rained−out NASCAR race in 2006. Last year, however, TNT smashed its per−game average and first−round playoff viewership went up 30 percent.
The last lockout sent the league into a ratings tailspin. The 1998 NBA Finals achieved a record share of 18.7, a number that’s never been even remotely sniffed again, until Game 6 earned a 15.0 overnight rating, up 35 percent from Game 6 of the 2006 Finals.
So which fans will turn out, those who made the 2010−11 season one of the most exciting ever, or the children who are only interested in something until it’s firmly in their grasps? Because it’s only Christmas until the next big holiday rolls around.