The NBA has the greatest basketball players on the planet playing in their league. They have arguable some of the best athletes in the world. Normally those two things would cause people, myself included, to be more engaged with what is going on with them. Oh yea, it is also play off time and yet we are seeing more coverage of the MLB on Sportscenter instead? Why doesn’t people like the NBA anymore? What is so bad that is driving fans away? Two words…. Queen James.
I grew up a basketball guy. It is my sport. I have coached it for over 10 years. I played it for over 10 years. I still get excited over the sound of squeaky shoes on a gym floor, the sound of the rock bouncing, and the smell of fresh popcorn in gyms. It is my thing. My office has a framed MJ jersey. I have the 1991 NBA Finals on DVD when the Bulls beat Magic and the Lakeshow. I also have my green Celtics Larry Bird jersey that I actually wore on Christmas Day one year while I opened presents. Watching my favorite college guys get drafted is always a fun experience.
About 10 years ago (it’s hard to point out a specific date because it has been gradually declining over time), my enjoyment to watch NBA games slowly began to fade. There is a common stigma that goes with the league. Most people don’t watch the NBA until play-off time because guys didn’t play defense until that time. If you have never watched a regular season NBA game, there is some truth to that.
They aren’t like a college game where the atmosphere is electric the entire time. There are no Cameron Crazies to make the gym shake a little. It is almost more of a “show” than a sporting event.
On July 8, 2010, Queen James, I mean LeBron James, held an hour-long tv show on ESPN to announce that he was going to play for the Miami Heat. At that point, the NBA changed. Don’t get me wrong. There is something to be said about professional athletes taking a pay cut to join together to try and win a title. But loyalty to a franchise will never be the same because of that move. Players no longer care about finishing up their career for one team. Chipper Jones spent 19 years in the Atlanta Braves Organization. Larry Bird played 13 years for the Boston Celtics. Terry Bradshaw played all 14 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Kobe Bryant played all 20 years for the Lakers. Joe DiMaggio, Craig Biggio, Tim Duncan, John Elway, Dr. J, Manu Ginobili, and more that also did the same thing in their respected sport. As a sports fan, that is something that speaks volumes to the player and the franchise itself. But once the Queen left Cleveland (his hometown), the word loyal means absolutely nothing anymore.
Look at the way Anthony Davis acted when he wanted out of New Orleans. He refused to play until he was traded. Dwight Howard wanted out of Orlando. Kawhi Leonard wanting out of San Antonio. Jimmy Butler with both Chicago and Minnesota. Kyrie wanting out of Cleveland. The list can go on and on. But this trend all started with one move…. LeBron to Miami.
Once guys no longer are loyal to a franchise, fan bases are no longer loyal to their team. They become loyal to players. Proof in point, how many friends do you have that were LeBron fans when he was in Cleveland, had jerseys of him. Once he went to Miami, they were suddenly Heat fans and dawned the new gear. Same is true with other players that have done the same thing. Durant and Harden took a wave of fans with them to Brooklyn.
Not only do fans no longer stay loyal to their teams, but fans lose interest in their franchise. I can attest to this personally. In 2015, the Braves traded away Craig Kimbrel and Evan Gattis and also let Jason Heyward walk in free agency. The year before, they let Brian McCann walk. I had grown attached to these players and watched them all up through the farm system. Once the Braves got rid of these guys, I took it hard and went almost 2 years without watching a game. Loyalty to your team is a real thing and once your star players and even “fan favorite” players leave, you lose your interest. In terms of the NBA, the turnover of the roster has gotten so absurd that most people can’t even remember who is on their team each year.
The NBA has also became a Superstar League. It’s not the Lakers anymore. It’s LeBron’s team. It was never the Houston Rockets. It was always James Harden’s squad. And since it has become a social media league, guys feel that they can never do wrong. If you watch a game with Queen James then you will see that every time he drives to the basket, if he doesn’t make the shot or draw a foul, he will complain. Every time. Because of his status, it has also made every one start doing that. Same is true when he takes to twitter to talk about things. NBA players talk more politics than they did hoops. They have created a vibe to wear they feel they are above local law enforcement and government. Because of their egotistical ways, it just adds fuel to the fire of why the NBA just sucks and isn’t any fun to be a part of.
According to Nielson viewing data, the NBA was at the peak of viewership in 1999 with over 29 million average per game in the finals. This past year, when the world was on lockdown and watching TV was about all that you could do, the viewership numbers this past season was an average of 7.45 million per game in the finals. That decline is the largest of any sports in the history of all sports!
So what can the NBA do to retain fans as well as get the fans back that lost interest? So glad you asked. Here are the three things the NBA should do.
1. Shorten the Season
Currently the NBA season is 82 games long. Pre-covid, the season ranged from October into June. This past season it started during Christmas time and was shortened down to 72 games. Obviously football is the most brutal sport, but NBA is the most taxing sport on your body. The NFL only plays a 17 game schedule and that is 1 game per week. Most NBA teams are playing 2-3 games per week and that is including also traveling in between. Traveling to go see family can be taxing on the body, let alone going to play 3 games in between 3 different cities in one week.
If you also shorten the season, you no longer have to compete as much with NCAAF and the NFL. If you have an Alabama vs Auburn or Colts vs Patriots football game on as well as the Wizards vs Bucks, which game are you going to watch? Exactly. The NBA needs to stop competing with other sports and shorten the season down so that the regular season games have more intensity early on.
2. Eliminate the Age Limit
Right now the CBA says that you must be 19 years of age and at least 1 year removed from high school to be eligible for the draft. The idea behind this rule is great, but it has in turn had a trickle effect. The college level has turned into a one and done league. Guys who don’t need to be going into the draft leave anyways because of this process. The MLB gives you the option of going straight pro or returning for college. If you return to college, you must stay 3 years minimum. In the NFL, you have to go to college for a minimum of 3 years before you can enter.
The argument that guys can’t compete right of high school is a bad argument. Just look at Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard.
The NBA should consider doing what MLB does. Allow them to go straight pro out of high school but if they go to college, they must remain 3 years. The reasoning of the CBA of being one year removed from high school was so that franchises could have an extra year to scout talent before taking a risk on a kid. Well that hasn’t helped make any sort of change. The Cavaliers have had 8 top 5 picks in the last 10 years. Of those 10 years, they have finished below 0.500 in 6 of them. The four years they finished above 0.500 was when LeBron resigned from 2014-2018.
3. Institute the Elam Ending
This one is a long stretch, but it has some serious validity. The Elam Ending is a rule created by TBT (The Basketball Tournament). It was used by the NBA in the All-Star game in 2020. According to Forbes, the average time of play for an NBA game with less than 1:30 left on the game clock is 21 minutes. For the lay man, if there is 1:30 left in the game, it is most likely going to take at least 21 minutes to watch the ending. That is enough time to watch an entire episode of FRIENDS on HBO Max. The Elam Ending is fun and exciting and has been statistically proven to work.