By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
April 19, 2013
If nothing else, the 2013 NBA postseason is a living, breathing, dunking example of “The More Things Change, the More they Remain the Same.” As NBA Playoff games across the nation are set to tip off on Saturday, the league, its business partners, and fans face two dominant issues that really haven’t budged an inch since teams reported to training camp in September: will the Kings continue to call Sacramento their home? And who is a legitimate challenger who will step up and prevent the Miami Heat from securing their second consecutive NBA title?
Beyond these two central issues, the 2013 NBA postseason brings other intriguing storylines. Will the NBA overcome flat regular season ratings and attendance to record stronger numbers on the road to the NBA Finals? Will the New York Knicks be able to win their first playoff series since the turn of the century? And with the Heat all but assured of locking up the East, who will emerge as the Wicked Winner of the West?
Let’s start with the Kings, who, with one of the worst records in the Western Conference, were not even sniffing at the Playoffs, and whose fate won’t be determined for at least a couple more weeks as the NBA Board of Governors failed to vote on the issue during meetings this week in New York.
The Sacramento squad also finished last in attendance among all NBA teams during the regular season, averaging 13,750 fans per game, a number that’s down about 5% from the labor stoppage shortened 2011-2012 season and much lower than the league-wide NBA team average of 17,348 fans (flat compared to ’11-’12).
In light of those dismal numbers, a move by the franchise to basketball-hungry Seattle certainly makes sense on paper, especially since would-be Seattle owners, hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s bid of $357 million for 65% of the team (based on a $550 million franchise valuation) has not been countered by the group trying to keep the franchise in Seattle, according to sources inside the bid process.
However, as with most sports franchise sales, the situation is not as simple as the highest bidder automatically gets the team. As Sports Illustrated notes, the 2008 departure of the Seattle Super Sonics for Oklahoma City “appeared to influence [NBA Commissioner David] Stern’s approach to the movement of franchises -- and therefore made it more difficult for Seattle to regain an NBA franchise." Moreover, Vivek Ranadive, currently Vice Chairman of the Warriors, who has teamed with Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson to try and keep the franchise there, has visions of transforming the Kings into a global brand by heavily promoting the Kings in his native India and among Indians living in the U.S. The strategy has to be intriguing to Stern and the NBA ownership, as it follows the successful strategy the league has laid out in China and that is personified in the U.S. by the Jeremy Lin-led Houston Rockets.
Another solution to the Kings dilemma Stern raised this week is expansion. While the NBA has long held the position that it wouldn’t be expanding any time soon, adding two more franchises would allow both Sacramento and Seattle to field a team, and give an “Oklahoma City-esque” shot to another mid market community—or, perhaps, finally land a pro sports franchise in Las Vegas.
Outside of the Sacramento-Seattle saga, the matchups to follow in the first round of the NBA Playoffs from a business perspective are undoubtedly the Nuggets-Warriors in the West and the Knicks-Celtics in the East—with a serving of Nets on the side.
As the Denver Post notes, the Nuggets enter the Playoffs following a record 57-win season and the second highest attendance in franchise history, and by all measures, “Nuggets Fever” is back amongst fans of a franchise without a standout star. Demand for team merchandise is also at an all-time high, and instead of fans wearing jerseys honoring former Nugget superstars Carmelo Anthony or Chauncey Billups, they are wearing items "honoring one of six or seven players on the team."
The Nuggets first round foes, the Oakland Warriors, also drew their second-highest total attendance in franchise history this year, with 794,320 fans making the trip to Oracle Arena. With the run-and-gun offense both teams favor, you could practically expect the point totals to rival attendance during the best-of-seven series.
With the L.A. Lakers struggling without injured star Kobe Bryant and the Clippers banged up and inconsistent, the winner of the Warriors-Nuggets series looks to be the most likely team to face the high-flying Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals, and thus lockup TV ratings in the flyover states.
That brings us back to the East, and its intriguing first round matchups. It’s no coincidence that NBA Hall of Famer Earl “The Pearl” Monroe chose this timeframe to launch the book tour for his same-titled autobiography—it was 40 years ago, after all, that The Pearl helped lead the New York Knicks to their last NBA title. Monroe will undoubtedly be courtside during the Knicks’ first round series with the Boston Celtics, a team, of course, that will have the nation on its side in the wake of Monday’s tragic bombings in the heart of that city.
Even though the Brooklyn Nets led all NBA franchises in attendance gains during their first season playing at Barclays Center, and the Jay-Z-led fan base and players alike will be decked out in black and white during their “Blackout in Brooklyn” postseason branding campaign, the Knicks are still the most popular team in the New York Metro area. And with both teams coming to the NBA Playoffs party, local ratings for basketball should be sky-high.
But even though the Knicks may feel like it’s finally their year to get back to the national presence they held in the days of Earl the Pearl, it’s hard not to root for the Boston Celtics and their fans. If ever there was a time for sports to heal, this is it. Whatever happens on the hardwood, we as a nation will have Boston in our hearts.