[Ed. note – With the NHL and NBA playoffs opening this week, we asked some colleagues to tell us which is more worth your time. Barry Svrluga went first, strongly advocating for the Stanley Cup playoffs yesterday. Today, Mike Wise defends Naismith’s game.]
Sometimes, late at night during the spring, I lie awake, thinking aloud: “Can Jonathan Quick blank the Sharks in Game 2?” Or “Will the Avs and Wild go three or four overtimes?” Or, “I really hope Chicago can become the first team since the 1998 Red Wings to repeat.”
Actually, I don’t.
Instead I think, “Did Stephen Curry step back from 30 feet with a second left, go splash and make West Oakland shake?” Or, “If the Clippers are down one in a Game 7, what are the chances I see Blake Griffin and Chris Paul in State Farm and Kia commercials before I see them play an NBA game before October? Will Lob City morph into Choke City in any meaningful game the Clips are not ahead by 20?” Or, “Can the Heat three-peat?”
This is a bad year to ask anyone whether the NHL playoffs is more enthralling than the NBA playoffs. Gary Bettman is right to blame the Capitals. They not only robbed the NHL commish of the league’s best enduring storyline — Will Ovi and the boys ever get over the hump? — they robbed the Stanley Cup playoffs of Mike Millbury and Don Cherry’s best material: annually trashing Alex Ovechkin until his team is eliminated.
Anyway, here are four reasons I’d rather follow the bouncing ball than the sliding puck this spring:
1. Television experience: Look, I ♥ the NHL playoffs. But only if I’m at the game, where I can see the nuances of changes on the fly, the above-ice angles of a 3-on-2 rush. Even in HD, even with Doc Emrick and Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire on skates with the first star, hockey will never translate to television like the NBA. It’s more than the obvious of seeing facial expressions and more athleticism instead of helmets and heavily-padded bodies. There is no NHL equivalent of the TNT studio show — no Charles, Kenny and Ernie breaking down while simultaneously making fun of the teams and players involved. The irreverence used by Charles toward every player he deems a knucklehead is much funnier and less mean-spirited than the outrage hockey gatekeepers (though Barry Melrose does get it and is damn good.) I would love to see the NHL network or NBC rip off the TNT “Gone Fishin'” bit. Make the Red Wings go ice fishin’ after they are eliminated, anything to break up the uber-serious, cycle-the-puck tone of their broadcasts.
2. Star power: While you can’t knock the intensity of a physical scrum between the Rangers and Flyers, nothing matches the star power of LeBron vs. KD, LeBron vs. CP, LeBron vs. Anyone Except Charlotte (because no one really wants to see that series.) The NBA is bemoaning Boston, New York and the Lakers all not being part of the postseason for the first time. But Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook don’t need a major market to be must-see TV. The Heat of LeBron have become the Bulls of Michael and the Lakers of Shaqobe — that Death Star team everyone wants to knock off.
There are more natural heroes and villains in the NBA. The major playoff storylines — (Will the Pacers recover to topple Miami? Are the Spurs too ancient? Are the Warriors too young? Can the Clips get out of their own way? Can the presumptive MVP — Durant in my book — survive the brutally rugged West and have enough left to win it all?) — are far more compelling than the NHL’s best storylines. Meantime, hockey’s biggest star, Sidney Crosby, could be gone in one round with the way the Penguins are faltering. Its second-most individually accomplished player is already on vacation.
3. A discernible hierarchy: Just nine different franchises have won NBA championships since 1984 and just 10 since 1980. These stats are often used to point out the lack of parity in the NBA, the fact that there are routinely three to four teams with a shot to win and a bunch of faux contenders. Meantime, a hot goalie turns the eighth-seeded Kings into Stanley Cup champs. Or puts the Flyers in the finals after having to win a shootout to qualify for the playoffs. Those are great for those respective markets; they aren’t great for casual fans to recognize potential upsets or identify genuine stars.
4. Drama: Fine, I’ll admit: Nothing is as at the same time so exhilarating and so deflating than a sudden-death playoff goal to end or further a season. But for pure pulsating drama I would still take Ray Allen’s baseline three-pointer to force overtime in Game 6 of the NBA Finals last season against the Spurs. I would still take Sir Charles scoring 24 in a single quarter against the Warriors in 1994 for a first-round classic.
Unless Ovi and the boys were playing Game 7 to get to the Stanley Cup Finals or to raise the grail — a pipe dream right now — I’d take the NBA playoffs nine out of 10 postseasons over the NHL playoffs.
But then, I can barely ice skate.