The NBA may be in offseason mode, but the sports world is abuzz with trade rumors, free agency whispers, Woj retweets, summer league rookie highlights, and, of course, fan rage. Shitting on the Knicks, speculating on how many games the Celtics will last against the Cavaliers, wondering whether the Spurs or Rockets can find a way to take down the Warriors, the ever-boistrous Lavar Ball’s predictions on Lonzo and the Lakers, and a whole host of other teams’ concerns keep people talking about the NBA, even though it’s been less than a month since the season ended.
No other league has quite the offseason that the NBA has, and other than the NFL the excitement isn’t even close. The NFL draft is always big, but free agency isn’t nearly as wild. The MLB and NHL are fairly quiet when their seasons end. So why is basketball so popular after the season ends? I thought of a few potential reasons:
1) The Draft
The NBA easily has the most exciting draft of the four leagues. Part of the reason for that is the size of the draft: it’s only two rounds, and lasts just a few hours. The NFL draft, by comparison, is seven rounds long and spans multiple days. The boradcast itself is also presented very well: between picks, the players are compared to current or past NBA stars, their skills are highlighted, and their potential role on their new teams are discussed; almost no time is wasted. The broadcast also manages to keep the fans posted on trade rumors, a staple of any draft, without getting carried away with too many. Adam Silver is also commly respected among most fans, and carries himself well during the draft; Roger Goodell, to compare, is almost universally hated among NFL fans, and has all the charm of a fax machine.
2) League Size
There are 30 teams in the NBA, same as the MLB. There are 31 now in the NHL and 32 in the NFL. The key difference is roster size. The NFL has a 53 man roster, the MLB has a 25 man active roster, and the NHL has a 23 man roster. The NBA only has a 13 man roster, about half of the next two biggest.
Why is that important? It means that any roster change will have a larger impact. losing one valuable starter or even role player or can hurt an NBA team immensely; the “Big Three”Celtics arguably lost a championship because Kendrick Perkins got hurt, and he was by no means a star. The salary cap is another factor, though it can be worked around to an extent. Teams have a limited number of max contracts, preventing them from signing top talent across the lineup as is theoretically possible in baseball. Salary rules limit trades as well.
Free agency is impacted further by the limited number of desirable free agent destinations. Though the few very successful teams can land free agents easily due to championship potential alone, relatively few teams have the attraction that many free agents desire. Miami and LA are popular destinations for weather and culture, and LA and New York are the biggest media hubs (so becoming a superstar becomes a easier, assuming performance). After those destinations, players are usually impacted only by their “hometown” (I.e. Dwyane Wade in Chicago) or by where friends or former college teammates/coaches are (I.e. Gordon Hayward and Brad Stevens reuniting in Boston). Bidding wars and free agency meetings become desperate attempts to lure players, which can be incredibly fun to watch from a fan perspective.
3) Star Power
A single player can have a far greater impact on his team in the NBA than in just about any other team sport. Few positions in all of American sports can muster that kind of effect: a quarterback or goalie can make or break a team, but only plays one side of the game. A pitcher can have the same effect for one game, but doesn’t play every night, or more than a handful of innings if he’s a relief pitcher. All 5 positions of an NBA team can have that impact, and a star in the NBA is far more valuable than a star in the other leagues.
In addition to that, all 5 positions in the NBA can produce star players, and have consistently done so throughout the history of the NBA. The NFL has a limited nunber of “star-making” positions (how many offensive linemen from the 70’s and 80’s can you name?), and the NHL and MLB are nowhere near as good at marketing their superstars.
The NBA playoffs this year sucked. They were way too predictable, and too few teams had a chance to even compete against their opponents. (I think the only underdog to actually win a series was Utah) But the excitement of the off season has allowed us to forget the almost boring playoffs and look forward to the hope that next year could be much better.