The NBA's TV Problem
The games are still covered as if it's 1995, without much explanation or analysis. Smarter announcing could build the audience--and appreciation for the sport.
The NBA playoffs are underway, and if all goes well, there will be upwards of 90 games before the finals begin on June 3.
This should be hoop heaven for NBA fans, but for me, this wall-to-wall basketball coverage keeps pointing out how television is failing the sport that it helped make into an international phenomenon.
On TV, the games are covered all too often as if it's still 1995. On the surface, this is fine. Basketball is still a very good fit for the small screen. The primary action is always centered on the screen. The ball is always visible and easy to follow, and the close proximity of the camera and simplicity of the gear means that players can be seen clearly--grimaces, glee and all emotions in between. It makes the drama of the games that much more palpable.
Where TV is failing basketball is in not encouraging fans to develop a deeper understanding of the sport. In football, every touchdown reception usually involves a good catch, some stellar blocking to protect the quarterback, and a well-run pattern by the receiver to get open. All those things are explained in the telecast. And both ESPN and the NFL Network feature shows that go further in depth, explaining the rotation of zone defenses, defensive-line schemes, blocking strategies and basic offensive plays of each team. All this helps turn casual fans into passionate ones, and it gives everyone a greater appreciation of the strategic nuances of the game.
Basketball needs to follow suit. The game's nonstop action isn't as well-suited for immediate analysis as football, where there is enough downtime in each game to cook a small feast. The Wall Street Journal put a stopwatch on an NFL game last season and found that there were 11 minutes of action during the three-hour telecast, which leaves plenty of time for analysis. However, an NBA game consists of 48 minutes of action in a 150-minute telecast. Even allowing that some of the downtime is spent shooting free throws or showing commercials, that still leaves ample time to do something more insightful that the current trend of excerpting the predictable platitudes of a coach's huddle during a timeout. These never amount to much more than some variation on ''Let's play hard!''
NBA telecasts need to do more to show its fans the inner workings of the teams in action. What does the Portland Trail Blazer offense do in the absence of their leading scorer, Brandon Roy? What defensive schemes did Boston use in the third and fourth quarters to shut down the Miami Heat offense? NBA fans are not all star-struck worshippers of the league's superstars. Some of us are fans of the sport and care as deeply about how the game is played as much as we do who made the latest circus shot.