Tuesday, April 25, 2006

NBA Pre-empts Weekend Playoff Games To Show Its Players Watching NFL Draft

The National Football League has long been entrenched as the 800-pound gorilla on the American sports landscape. 4 ½ months before the 2006 season kicks off, this pre-eminence is readily apparent this week. Surveys have shown that sports fans are far more interested in this weekend’s NFL draft than in the baseball regular season and NBA and NHL playoffs. Always aware of the marketplace, NBA commissioner David Stern does not want to be left behind. Therefore, afternoon NBA playoff games will not be played as scheduled this Saturday and Sunday. Instead, TNT and ABC will televise players from the involved NBA teams as they watch the NFL draft.

Stern explained why the move was a no-brainer. “In the first round of the NFL draft, every fifteen minutes something actually happens. And in between, a bunch of guys who will probably be proven dead wrong in a couple years get to talk incessantly about the process, as they’ve been doing on SportsCenter for months. Shaquille O’Neal throwing down a Dwyane Wade alley-oop pass just can’t match that excitement.” Instead, Wade and O’Neal will be shown debating whether Matt Leinart should be chosen before Vince Young.

For the affected afternoon games, the winners will be decided based on their draft prognostication skills. The Phoenix Suns-Los Angeles Lakers matchup on Sunday will be particularly interesting. Ballots for NBA MVP have already been submitted, but the forecasting battle between Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant could serve as a referendum on who should collect the award. Nash has a reputation for making his teammates better at analyzing the draft, but Kobe is eager to disprove the charges that he is selfish in predicting the selections.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is highly critical of the commissioner’s decision. Cuban pointed out that the two best players in the Mavericks-Grizzlies series – Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol – both hail from Europe, where “football” refers to the upcoming World Cup. Therefore, he feels that forcing the players to analyze the NFL draft on Saturday is unfair. Stern responded, “Yes, Dirk and Pau are great basketball players. But they need to be more like Mel Kiper, Jr.”

The Chicago Bulls, already down 2-0 in their series with Miami, could be swept if their picks are off base on Sunday. The Bulls’ inexperience is a potentially huge obstacle, so they have enlisted the aid of a long-time NFL draft observer. This advisor has imparted the following tips to the Baby Bulls as ABC asks them for their thoughts on NFL prospects: “When in doubt, say the word ‘upside’ as much as possible. And if they ask a follow-up question, proclaim, ‘This guy can really make plays.’” As a result, Chicago should be able to survive.

The Indiana Pacers and New Jersey Nets will be at Radio City Music Hall in person for the festivities. With the commissioner’s edict changing plans for Saturday’s scheduled game 4 in Indianapolis, the teams will head east early before game 5 in East Rutherford. The players will be happy about the extra time away from the court, since having days off between first round NBA playoff games is extremely rare. The additional break will also cut down on injuries. That is, as long as the Nets and Pacers sit far away from ESPN commentator Michael Irvin, whose screaming analysis could cause permanent deafness.

The night-time NBA matchups will be played as scheduled. However, ESPN and TNT reserve the right to interrupt coverage of those games to show highlights of basketball players’ reactions to the selections. Also, NBA sideline reporters will solicit draft insight from coaches as they leave the court at halftime. For example, during the Pistons-Bucks contest Saturday night, Detroit coach Flip Saunders will discuss the latest wide receiver to be chosen in the first round by the Lions. The reporter may go slightly off-topic with Milwaukee coach Terry Stotts, seeking his thoughts on whether Brett Favre will retire.

Due to Stern’s decision, NBA coaches have an even bigger workload than their typical playoff grind. Not only will they break down game film on their opponents, but now they must do so for all the top football prospects. In the NBA postseason, the Atlanta Hawks are no longer a concern. But A.J. Hawk certainly is.