Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Clippers Get TV Exposure

The NBA announced the 2006-07 season schedule this week, and along with it, the TV schedule. The Clippers are on national TV a franchise record 11 times (I'm counting basic cable here, so ESPN, TNT and ABC but not NBA-TV). Actually, calling this a franchise record is a bit of an understatement, since they were scheduled for National TV exactly once last year (they played their way into several more appearances), and I really don't remember the last time they were on National TV before that.

But this recognition is slow in coming. Of the 8 NBA teams that reached conference semi-finals last year, the Clippers and the Nets have the fewest National TV appearance, tied at the aforementioned 11 (fewer, by the way, than the non-playoff Rockets with 12).

ESPN, TNT and ABC are looking for good teams, but more importantly, marquee players for their broadcasts. So it's no surprise that Phoenix (24), Cleveland (24), Miami (23), Dallas (23), and Detroit (21) are all well-represented. Should it be a surprise that the Lakers are also maxed out at 24? It's a tribute to the star-power of Kobe, the ongoing mystique of the Lakers, and the size of the LA market.

I do find it surprising that the Bulls would warrant 20 broadcasts, when they are a borderline playoff team in the East without a marquee star. I guess the Bulls-mystique remains powerful still, all these years after Jordan left town.

The Knicks however have lost any luster they ever had. It is a credit to the TV execs that the Knicks will not be on national TV this year. In fact, it is surprising the extent to which TV is ignoring the New York market. Zero games for the Knicks, who are admittedly horrifically bad, but have some 'train wreck' appeal nonetheless; and 11 games for the Nets, who won the Atlantic Division and have Jason Kidd and Vince Carter, ostensibly two of the most popular players in the Assoc. I can't say I understand that one.

While I would like to get all righteously indignant about 24 Lakers appearances compared to 11 Clippers, I really can't. For one thing, I'd rather listen to Ralph and Mike than anyone on ESPN; TNT is a push because of their terrific pre-game and halftime shows. But I do understand the appeal of putting Kobe on TV - he might go for 80+ in any game. And as good as the Clippers are, they do lack that transcendant star that most NBA fans find truly compelling (at least until Livingston develops more confidence.)

The Clippers also have fewer TV games than either the Nuggets (14) or the Kings (16). Given the performances in last season's playoffs, and expected improvement in the Clippers, it is only reasonable to assume that LA will be better than these teams. But again, the 'star' appeal of Carmelo in Denver and Artest in Sacto changes the equation. Hell, it's 'must see TV' when Artest plays either Detroit or Indy, right? (In fact ESPN is broadcasting 2 of the 4 meetings.)

But you have to put it in perspective. It could be worse - we could be Grizzlies fans. The only team with a less charismatic superstar than the Clippers (Gasol vs. Brand), they had a better regular season record than the Clippers, they've made the playoffs 3 straight seasons, and they are on National TV a grand total of 2 times this season. Ouch.

By the way, there's definitely more at stake here than just getting to see your favorite team on TV, which you can do with an NBA Season Pass anyway. As long as fans vote for the all-star team, the players that are on TV will get a dispropotionate number of votes. And while we can excuse the fans, the writers who vote for league wide honors are almost as susceptible. Look at Pau Gasol versus Carmelo Anthony from last season. Anthony is better than Gasol in one category - scoring. And by the way, he took a lot more shots, while Gasol shot a better percentage. Meanwhile, Gasol is significantly better than Anthony in every other statisical category, and a much better defender. But Anthony received significantly more votes for All-NBA, because most NBA writers saw Anthony about 10 times more than they saw Anthony.

Of course, this is just the way it is. But I do wish that the writers who lament the 'selfish', 'one-on-one', 'superstar-driven' NBA would wake up and realize that they are part of the problem.