Where once there was indifference, enthusiasm thrives.
What was formerly a forgone conclusion has turned into something else entirely.
With the Cleveland Cavaliers making their first NBA Finals appearance, and super-duper star LeBron James comprising about 80 percent of the team, people who stopped watching in the second round are back. My friend was talking to me yesterday about a phone call from his mom, who doesn't really follow sports. She was flipping around and landed on LeBron's virtuoso importance in Game 5, and tuned in for Game 6 because it was so impressive. I find this indicative, and the NBA couldn't be happier about this turn of events.
They, like most everyone else, were ready for another tried-and-true matchup of Spurs vs. Pistons. Many could have cared less, and thus the Finals would probably have seen some truly horrid viewership. Now, with the culture that has forever been installed by the individual dominance of Michael Jordan, many sports fans will be tuning in to see if they can get a glimpse of history.
Never mind the fact that the Spurs are going to roll the Cavaliers quickly. My prediction? The Cavs win game 3 in Cleveland, and that's it. But then again, I picked Detroit to roll Cleveland too. Maybe LeBron has made the permenant jump. If so, the Spurs really are going to have their hands full. To be successful, the Cavs formula has to have LeBron excelling in some aspect of the game, whether it be scoring or hitting the open man, and at least one other Cavalier has to step up their game. In Game 3, it was a combo of Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Sasha Pavlovic. In Game 4 it was a combo of Daniel Gibson and Drew Gooden. In Game 5 it was LeBron, LeBron, and another LeBron. I don't actually remember any other Cleveland players in the floor at all. Game 6, Gibson stepped up big time. So, he just needs at least one other player to step up and play well. That really isn't that far fetched. Then again, the Spurs are a much more collected, consistent version of the same style of play as the Pistons. If the Spurs can deal with LeBron on full-on attack mode, they'll succeed like I expect them to.
One of the other more interesting subplots will be how much leniency Bruce Bowen gets. The national villianization of the Spurs' showstopper reached epic levels in the last few weeks, and his constant blanketing of LeBron will probably fuel more. Likely, the biggest difference maker will be whether or not Bowen is allowed to poke, prod and bump LeBron as much as he is used to doing. If the officials let him do what he normally does, the Spurs should lock up their fourth championship handily. If the officials start giving concessions to the superstar (and this is a distinct possibility), the Cavs might have a fighting chance.
Personally, I am happy for the NBA as a league. I like to see it succeed, and I like to see people paying attention.
Here's hoping it's a close series either way. The subplots begin Thursday at 8 p.m.