Monday, May 19, 2008

Celtics Get Past Cleveland

Yesterday, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and the Celtics advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals by escaping LeBron James and Cleveland 97-92 in game seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinal series. More here.

All season lonng, Drive and Dish cast a wary eye on much of the media hype that was lavished on the 2007-08 Celtics. We (I) thought that the league and ESPN were making too much of a big deal about the Celtics. And that's not surprising. ESPN is obsessed with the Boston vs. New York sports rivalries. That network is practically a 24/7 advertisement for the Red Sox and Yankees baseball rivalry.

ESPN's world revolves around New York and Boston. And the Celtics are a sentimental favorite of many, many prominent members of the national sports media.

And the NBA's Seacaucus, NJ, front office has long promoted the Knicks, the Celtics and the Lakers at the expense of the rest of the league. The league treats those three franchises as its cornerstone franchises (with the Nets, the Sixers and the Wizards getting a nod as well). The NBA seems to think that its primary markets are the Northeast corridor (New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.) and Los Angeles (and more specifically, "Hollywood" and the entertainment industry). And they appear to go out of their way to promote the teams from those markets, even though many of the league's great dynasties and great teams have come from the hinterlands (Detroit, Chicago, Houston, San Antonio).

As a side note, the NBA may very well be right about where interest in their league is the highest. No doubt, the NBA does extensive market research. And its quite possible that interest in the league is strongest in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.
For what it's worth, Drive and Dish gets most of its hits from the Eastern part of the United States. On the map, our daily hits are most abundant along the East Coast (from Boston to South Florida), in the Carolinas, the Southeast, through the industrial states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana), and up and down the West Coast. We get also see daily action in parts of the Midwest and in the cities of Texas. But our readers are, overwhelmingly, on the coasts and in the Eastern half of the U.S.

So if Drive and Dish's daily traffic flow is any indicator of interest in the game of basketball, the NBA's Northeastern bias may just be a case of knowing its market.

But one can't help but wonder if the NBA (and the media) are missing out by giving short shrift to the rest of the country.

Although it's subtle, an observant media consumer will notice that the NBA and the national sports media always refer to the Knicks, Celtics, Lakers, Nets, Sixers and Wizards by their team names, while all other franchises are identified only by the names of the cities in which they operate (including franchises that have won multiple championships, such as Detroit, Chicago and San Antonio).

As a nod to ESPN and the national media, Drive and Dish faithfully observes this practice with regard to our NBA coverage. And while it might seem trivial, I think it speaks volumes about the attitudes that prevail in the Seacaucus offices.

The NBA describes itself as a "sports entertainment league." Which isn't much different from the way Vince McMahon describes his WWE: the WWE calls its product "sports entertainment."

The NFL overtook baseball as the most popular sport in America after former commissioner Paul Tagliabue's vision of league wide "parity" was achieved. Tagliabue's logic was that the disparity between the triumphant dynasties and the vast swath of teams that had absolutely no shot at qualifying for the playoffs (let alone the Super Bowl) that had characterized the balance of power in the NFL from the 1970's to the mid 1990's was, ultimately, bad for the league. Tagliabue reasoned that if the balance of power was more evenly distributed throughout the league -- and as a result, more teams were able to contend for post-season berths -- the public's overall interest in the NFL would explode.

And he was right.

Interest in the NFL has grown exponentially in the era of parity. And the league is healthier than it has ever been.

But the NBA seems to operate under the premise that its appeal is primarily limited to the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions (plus Hollywood). And as such, the league segregates itself. The Knicks get tons of attention, no matter how bad their on court performance is. But San Antonio -- the reigning World Champions -- gets the proverbial redheaded step child treatment from the league and the national sports media.

Maybe the NBA knows their market inside and out and has been shrewd in focusing its marketing on the East Coast. But Drive and Dish has always wondered if the NBA would be better served by trying harder to promote its league across the country (and by dropping the snobby East Coast-centric attitude).

Long story short: the league and the national media have been salivating over a potential Celtics/Lakers NBA Finals all season long. And ESPN's NBA coverage has virtually been "all Celtics all the time."

But the Celtics don't (and never did) deserve all the hype.

Drive and Dish believes that the Celtics are over-hyped and overrated. They barely got past Atlanta and Cleveland in the playoffs. And Detroit should be able to knock them out in order to advance to the NBA Finals.

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