Pro Basketball in Erie, Part 1: The NBA Problem

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

When I first heard that Erie was getting an NBDL franchise, I was excited. Unfortunately, I felt like I was in the minority. And, although I do not have the attendance figures, anyone who attended a BayHawks game this season can attest to the fact that there are plenty of good seats still available.

It is the most important question BayHawks management has to answer: How do we put butts in the seats? (And keep them coming back for more.) The answer—if there is one—isn’t going to be simple, but first we need to get to the root of the problem.

Yes, the BayHawks first season coincided with the worst economic downturn of my lifetime, and that certainly didn’t help. But I’m not an economist, and I don’t even play one on blog TV, so I’ll leave that part of the equation for people who know what they’re talking about (assuming they’re out there somewhere). What I do know about is basketball. And when it comes to basketball, the BayHawks have an image problem.

Whoa, hold back your complaining e-mails, BayHawks management. The image problem isn’t really your fault. Unfortunately, it’s still your problem.

You see, the BayHawks are affiliated with the NBA. Therein lies the problem.

In Erie, there is a definite stigma against the NBA. I don’t know if this is a national or local phenomenon, but around here, the league is looked down upon—or more realistically—ignored by the masses, even among the basketball-fan population. As a basketball diehard and NBA junkie, I consistently find myself on the defensive, trying to defend the merit and entertainment value of NBA basketball. Erie basketball fans prefer, in no particular order: big-time NCAA basketball, local (Division II) college basketball, and local high school basketball.

Yet the same people who can be found packing the stands for the McDonald’s Classic high school tournament in January and filling out NCAA tournament brackets in March, find excuses not to care about or actively avoid watching the NBA.

The three most common complaints I hear are as follows:

  1. NBA players are overpaid.
  2. NBA players don’t play defense.
  3. NBA players don’t play hard.
NBA players are overpaid.
I have no counterargument for the first point, but that applies across the spectrum of major pro sports. So, if football fans still love watching the NFL, baseball fans still love watching MLB, and hockey fans love watching the NHL, the same should apply for basketball fans and the NBA.

NBA players don’t play defense.
I don’t understand the theory behind this argument, but it’s a clich├ęd response I get all the time when I question why some basketball fans don’t like the NBA.

Yes, NBA teams score more points than college and high school. They also play longer games with a shorter shot clock, limited zone defense, and rules catered to allow the offense to flow smoothly. Is anyone really pining for more games to be mid-90s Knicks-Heat games where 80 was likely both the winning team’s point total and number of bruises sustained?

The fact of the matter is that “NBA players don’t play defense” is such a general statement, it’s hard to even offer a rational defense. But if you watched the Cavs grit out a win against the Atlanta Hawks last night when their offense was sputtering, you’d see defense. If you watch Shane Battier follow Kobe Bryant like a red-and-white shadow, you’d see defense.

Fans also need to understand who NBA defenders are defending. They are defending the best athletes in the world. It’s almost impossible to stop LeBron James when he has his mind set to get to the rim. And even Battier’s defensive brilliance can’t keep Kobe from hitting H-O-R-S-E shots in the playoffs.

Collectively, defense wins championships. But individually, on any one given play, great offense will beat great defense. It’s the chess mass that makes the game great. It’s why people generally aren’t glued to their TV sets to watch shootaround. They want to see the challenge of scoring against defense, and that’s what the NBA delivers.

NBA players don’t play hard
Again, this is a major generalization. I blame Eddy Curry, Ricky Davis, and players of their ilk. Yes, there are some bad apples in the bunch. But since when do we judge the quality of a movie based on two extras who aren’t even in focus during their only scene?

I think the NBA is as competitive today as it’s ever been during my lifetime. From Kobe and LeBron to Chris Paul and Kevin Garnett to Dwight Howard and Dwyane Wade, there’s no shortage of great players who bring it every night. Their teams, and the league, follow their example. The U.S. Olympic “Redeem Team” this past summer set the bar high, pushing one another to be the best, and it’s rubbed off on the league in a positive way.

Just to be in shape to play an 82-game regular season takes a tremendous amount of work. I don’t think the average basketball fan has any appreciation for what NBA players do in a day or a week to do their job. These guys are machines. The few times a week they play on national TV or the SportsCenter highlights that you see from them? That’s the equivalent of me typing this paragraph. It’s such a small piece of what they do.

Millions of kids grow up wanting to play in the NBA. About 450 get to realize that dream per year. Suffice it to say, it takes more than God-given ability to make it to this level. These guys are the best in the world doing what they do. Any basketball fan should appreciate that.

So that’s where I’m coming from. I love basketball. Basketball is played all over the world by people of all ages, sizes and talent levels. The best of the best play their basketball in the NBA. As a basketball lover, I enjoy watching the sport in general, but enjoy it most when it’s played at its highest level. That’s why I love the NBA. You won’t see the game played any better on the planet.

Coming up next: Pro Basketball in Erie, part 2: The Basketball Food Chain

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About this blog/blogger

Blog Talk BayHawk is an unofficial Erie BayHawks blog covering the NBA D-League. It features opinions and information about the NBADL and the Erie BayHawks. Blog Talk BayHawk is written from a basketball fan’s perspective to fill In the gaps left by professional journalists’ coverage of BayHawks basketball and the Erie professional basketball scene.

Matt Hubert is a 25-year-old writer and basketball fanatic born and raised in Erie, Pa. He graduated from Mercyhurst College in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in English and a dual concentration in writing and creative writing. Matt's not wavering from his stance as a lifelong Los Angeles Lakers fan, but he will cover the BayHawks' NBA affiliates in Cleveland and Toronto when it makes sense to do so throughout the year.

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