Over the past eight or so years, the basketball provided by the National Basketball Association hasn’t been fun to watch.
That might be a bold statement to make about one of America’s three major professional sports leagues, but just look at the Neilsen television ratings for the NBA playoffs before and after the 2002 lockout. From 1990-2002, the playoffs as a whole had a rating above 10.0 each year. Since 2002, the league’s playoffs have had a rating above 10.0 just twice.
There are multiple reasons, aside from the lockout, why the games provided by the NBA aren’t entertaining to the casual sports fan anymore. The players, a certain level of monotony within the standings each season and officiating are a few of these reasons.
But the NBA situation isn’t all doom and gloom thanks to two teams: the Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder.
To understand how these two teams are going to help the league, one has to first understand what is wrong with the NBA today.
The NBA is not what it used to be, primarily because of the players. Looking at controversial players of the 1990s, Dennis Rodman is at the top of the list. Rodman’s claim to controversial fame was headlined by his dyed hair, multiple piercings and tattoos and more game ejections than anyone in NBA history.
In the post-2002 NBA, it’s hard to tell who should be labeled the most controversial player.
There’s Ron Artest, who has gotten into fights with fans; Gilbert Arenas, who pulled a gun on a teammate; and Kevin Garnett, who reportedly called an opponent a “cancer patient.”
Of course, there’s also the ego-inflated money seekers like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
The NBA needs a controversial player or two—but no more. Players like Rodman kept fans coming back to their televisions each night to see what he would do next. Some of today’s players are keeping fans away.
The monotony has to do with teams actually competing in the NBA. In the 1990’s, even though the Bulls captured six championships, teams were constantly competing, and there was a variety of playoff matchups every season.
In recent years, the standings have often ended with the Celtics, Orlando Magic and whichever team James plays for on top in the East and the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks on top in the West.
The betting scandal of 2007 also turned fans away from the league. Former referee Tim Donaghy was accused of betting on playoff games from the previous two seasons, and also making incorrect calls in games to affect point spreads.
The incident did nothing to help the league’s image.
Amidst all of these issues are teams like the Bulls and the Thunder.
In the 1990s the Bulls and the Thunder—then the Seattle Supersonics—were consistently on top of the league. The Bulls were led by Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Rodman, while Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton and Sam Perkins were some of the recognizable faces on Seattle teams.
The difference between these teams and the powerhouse teams of today lies in the images they portray.
Aside from Rodman, no one ever heard of players from either organization shedding a negative light on the league. These players simply went out and played for the chance to win an NBA championship every game.
Chicago and Seattle teams made the playoffs every season from the 1990-91 season through the 1997-98 season. That was often the only reason why you ever heard about either organization during that time.
The NBA was far more entertaining because of these teams and teams like them. Now, the NBA has a chance to get back to where it was.
The resurgence of the Bulls and the Thunder is going to bring viewers back to the NBA. They probably won’t come all at once, but soon, the casual fan won’t be able to stay away.
The Bulls have the trio of Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah and the Thunder are led by Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Nick Collison. The players leading these teams don’t get into trouble, generally stay away from the media and go out to win every night.
That’s showing this season. Last year, both teams grabbed the eighth and final playoff spot in their respective conferences. This year, both teams lead their divisions at the All-Star break and are in prime position to make the playoffs.
Both teams have achieved much of their success through drafting and building of all-around solid organizations, much like their 1990s counterparts. It’s likely that other teams are looking or will be looking to mimic this idea over the next several years.
Their 1990s counterparts did their talking through wins and ratings. The wins have been coming in bunches for the 2010-11 Bulls (38-16) and Thunder (35-19). I think the ratings will soon follow.