An Open Letter to The NBA
Remember five years ago? The NFL was hot off the concussion drama, player safety was at all time low, ratings were dropping for America’s favorite pastime and to top it all off they were in the messy process of ousting a promising young QB from the league just for taking a knee. Meanwhile on the hardwood things were looking up. Lebron had cemented his legacy, Kobe said farewell to an illustrious career, the game was getting even bigger overseas and the young stars were budding. And the ratings? Oh, the ratings! Lebron and Curry dueling was quite the draw, and their legendary series delivered the NBA’s largest market in years.
The high of that 2016 summer was undeniable and a whole slew of culture writers, analytics nerds and longtime basketball fans were quick to declare that basketball, not football, would be the most popular sport in America in no time at all. Fast forward to 2021 and well, NBA. Things aren’t looking as hot as they were back then.
The 2020 Orlando bubble was a fun experiment, but a financial failure and one that soured much of the league’s audience. The subsequently rushed 2021 season left dozens of stars hobbled and unable to play, and the numbers showed it. The Milwaukee Bucks vs the Phoenix Suns drew the lowest NBA finals ratings in 20 years, failing to even grab half the viewers from 2019. The big names, LeBron, Curry, Durant are still doing their thing, but the next generation isn’t quite clicking. And how could I go without mentioning your greatest failure in decades?
Remember that budding league in China from the 2000s? Well, I don’t need to tell you this but it’s huge now and the billions of dollars in revenue coming across the pacific every year have hampered all your attempts at being America’s progressive sports league. Your friends on the gridiron keep growing, and that lofty aspiration of unseating them feels permanently out of reach.
It feels like the magic of the past has been lost. I still love you NBA. How could I forget Lebron streaking down the court to emphatically reject what should have been an easy game winning layup to win the NBA finals? Ray Allen’s heroic three pointer that saved an entire series? Or Derrick Rose’s career high coming years after his tumultuous fall from excellence.
This is the only place in the world where an undrafted chinese kid from Harvard can put an entire city on his back and a chubby second-rounder from Serbia can dominate the league with the grace of a walrus. This is where greatness happens. I don’t have to tell you that, you already know it. But sometimes it feels like you’ve forgotten. For the sake of kids in eastern europe hoping for a shot and the budding high school phenoms dreaming of draft day, I hope you remember.