COLUMN: Singing the NBA blues

Justin DiBiase

In a few weeks, we will be in the heart of the American sports calendar. College football will be approaching bowl games. The NBA’s, NHL’s and NFL’s regular seasons will be in full flight. Though the area surrounding Villanova is not a hotbed for good college football, the rest of the nation endears itself to the pageantry and rivalry of this collegiate sport. Additionally, the popularity of the NFL is ever-growing and it is the sports pastime of this generation. Villanova’s campus will also be abuzz with the start of the college basketball schedule. Like football, college basketball is popular for its fierce competition and high energy. The NBA, however, seems to be waning in popularity domestically. At times, the league seems to be more interested in its image than the product it puts on the court.

College basketball represents all that is good with sports. Salaries are nonexistent (besides scholarships), and advertising deals for players are against NCAA regulations. Players spill their hearts and guts for respect and pride in their schools. The NCAA tournament is arguably the most exciting postseason spectacle in sports. Teamwork is stressed. Players answer to their coaches and are subject to the rules of the NCAA and the institutions they play for. College basketball does not offer mega-stars with their own shoe and clothing lines. What college basketball does is provide a level of basketball unlike any other.

The NBA, on the other hand, is falling into a competitive depression. The league has the best athletes in the world, but the least entertaining product on the floor. Players are more concerned with their record deals and scoring averages than their teams’ performances. Analysts wonder why we continually lose in international basketball tournaments. Frankly, the me-first attitude of the NBA superstars doesn’t get the job done anymore in international competition. If we entered the best team in college basketball in an international tournament, I bet they would be fairly successful.

For answers to the problem, one should look no further than the NBA itself. Maybe the grueling 82-game season should be shortened. Maybe new laws should be enforced to make pro-ball more of a team game. Whatever happens, Commissioner David Stern needs to realize something needs to be done. It says a lot about the state of the league when year-in and year-out the most anticipated event of the season is the slam dunk contest.

Another key ingredient in the current struggle of the NBA is attendance. While the popularity of professional basketball is spreading like wildfire overseas, home arenas for regular-season games are rarely filled to capacity. If an average fan was sitting on his La-Z-Boy, I am confident that he would want to watch the college basketball game in which rowdy fans pack arenas to yell and scream at every loose ball over a professional game in which 1,600 lackadaisical fans sit in their seats all game and clap lightly to show approval. Although college basketball is the NBA’s little brother, it almost seems like college basketball is revolutionary. Years ago, the NBA and NCAA basketball players each offered its own version of exciting basketball. While college basketball has stuck to its roots, the NBA has drifted away from what made it so pleasing to watch. There are only so many games over the course of a season in which one can watch Allen Iverson chuck 30 shots at the rim. I love Allen and what he brings to the floor, but after a while, it gets tiring watching him gun for the scoring title. I would rather watch a fierce college basketball battle between two teams from a mid-major conference than waste my time with a sport that cares more about looks than substance.

I am not criticizing the entire league, however. NBA players are very active in the community and do a commendable job as ambassadors to the underprivileged. Stern has done an outstanding job implementing a plan to make team management more diverse as well.

As for potential changes that need to be made to the NBA, there aren’t many things that the commissioner can implement. Change needs to start in every single locker room. If coaches stress teamwork and unselfish play, basketball will become fun to watch again. If every team played like the Detroit Pistons, the game would likely receive more positive feedback.

Many basketball fans have taken note of the less-than-entertaining product that the NBA puts on the floor. Maybe teams should look to the style of European play in which almost every player touches the ball at least once every possession. Whatever may come in the future of professional ball in America, it needs to inject itself with some better basketball.