How I learned to stop caring about ratings and start caring about basketball and good stories
I ran into a dual issue over the weekend where something was going on with my Substack account and I literally could not publish new posts for some reason and I also had a procedure done on my back and thus was in a bunch of pain for a few days. Luckily, the former problem has been fixed and the latter is subsiding, so let’s run through a few thoughts on the state of the conference finals. But first, a note on what is going to happen…
We are going to get a Nuggets-Heat NBA Finals. Hate to break it to ya, but neither the Lakers nor Celtics is coming back from being down 3-0. Perhaps there’s a team that will do that some day, but neither of these teams is that team. Not in the condition they’re in and not the way their opponents are playing. So, Nuggets-Heat it will be.
And I swear in my life if I hear one more complaint about the potential ratings for this series or how the NBA is going to be unhappy or whatever I am going to lose my mind. WHO GIVES A SHIT? First of all, ESPN/ABC has absolutely already sold its ad inventory. Second of all, why do you care how much money they make on ads during the Finals? Third of all, if you think the ratings for one series are going to affect the negotiations of the next TV deal, I have a bridge to sell you. And finally, WHO GIVES A SHIT?
Is a Nuggets-Heat Finals, Lakers-Celtics? No. It’s fucking better. Lakers-Celtics is boring and all we’d hear about is the past. This NBA Finals will actually be about what’s happening now, and the road these two teams took to get here.
It will be about a back-to-back MVP who, if we’re being honest, spent much of this season being denigrated by a lot of the NBA media apparatus and even its players, but who is slapping up a 30-point triple-double in the playoffs and helping his team demolish the Western Conference contenders. It will be about a star guard who is two years removed from tearing his ACL and now shooting daggers into the hearts of opponents, just like he did before the injury. It will be about a former top recruit in the nation who has battled back injuries throughout his career, who some people thought would never play again, and who has shown enormous growth and maturity and become a terrific player on both ends of the court and is also self-aware enough to tell his coach that it’s OK if he wants to close games with a bench player on the floor ahead of him because all he wants to do is win. It will be about a former top-five pick who wanted to be a certain type of player, tried it and failed, and bought into being the player he always should have been once he was traded to a real contender. It will be about a former second-round pick who literally plays all five positions at different times and knew he wanted to sign with this team to play with this star because he saw this season coming. It will be about a franchise that has never been to the NBA Finals looking to capture its first ring, while being coached by a legion of coaches’ sons.
It will be about the second No. 8 seed to make the NBA Finals, 24 years after it was done for the first and only time ever. It will be about a team that was mere minutes away from not making the playoffs at all, dominating the top seeds in the conference while hemorrhaging core players. It will be about arguably the best coach in the NBA doing the best coaching job of his career. It will be about the league’s most overlooked superstar making sure he is never, ever overlooked again. It will be about not one, not two, not three, but four undrafted players in the rotation for a Finals team. It will be about a guy who signed a 10-day deal, became one of the most dangerous shooters in the league, got himself paid, fell out of the rotation, and was resurrected at the most important time. It will be about a guy who was cut by one of the worst teams in the league, signed a two-way contract, and became one of the NBA’s most valuable bench players. It will be about a guy who started his college career at Lewis University, went undrafted out of DePaul, battled his way onto an NBA roster only to tear his ACL, and came back from all that to work his way up from a two-way deal to being a crucial starter. It will be about an undrafted guard going from Most Improved Player in the G League to supplanting a longtime veteran (and champion) starter. It will be about one of the league’s most versatile big men making the leap to true stardom in real time, doing battle with the premier player at his position.
If the league can’t sell any of this, it should get out of the selling business. And all of that is before we get to the actual basketball.
People who complain about how every team in the league plays the same way? Watch the Nuggets and Heat go at it and then try to tell me that with a straight face. Watch Nikola Jokic try to do his thing against Erik Spoelstra’s schemes. Watch Jimmy Butler go one-on-one against Aaron Gordon. Watch Jamal Murray try to drain jumpers over Gabe Vincent and Caleb Martin and probably Bam Adebayo. Watch Max Strus and Duncan Robinson fly around off screens with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Michael Porter Jr. and Bruce Brown chasing them. Watch Jimmy and Bruce talk shit to the opposing benches. Watch Kyle Lowry and Kevin Love and Jeff Green continue to try to turn the clock back. Watch and see just how many rotation players the Heat can lose to injury and still keep coming at you. Watch Michael Malone’s salty press conferences. Just… watch the games and enjoy.