Last night was an interesting one for my twitter feed, because it seemed to be split on focus. One half, mainly the football and bigger media were focused on Game 7 between the Heat and Pacers, as was warranted. The other half, the fiercely hockey devoted half, was interested in Game 2 between the Bruins and Penguins. I was firmly in the latter camp, as many of you who have been readers of this blog for awhile will be aware of. Last night did shed light on reasons why even though Game 2 was a total whitewashing, I wasn't changing the channel to the NBA blowout, and I wouldn't have even if the game was close. So therefore this piece, and the NBA, are indeed too predictable.
Despite the sports world's best wishing, and Justin Bieber's S&M leather get-up plus shameless frontrunning, the Heat were going to win Game 7 barring some amazing collapse that would have made Skip Bayless' brain explode. Most people were comfortable in saying this even after watching the Heat fizzle out in Game 6. Over on the NHL side, the narrative has been centered around a perceived lack of "parity" because the last 4 Stanley Cup Champs were in the conference finals. But if anyone told you before both series started that they would go the way they did, especially the one in Pittsburgh, you probably would have been laughed out of the room. That's the genius of the NHL: every game is still its own entity, or a separate ecosystem that takes nothing of what happened before into account and is nearly useless into figuring out what will happen next.
Sports are at their best when they are unpredictable and surprising, and the more of the former that any sport is, the less fun it is. It does get boring to watch the same 3 teams compete for the Premier League title every year, but that is balanced by European football being almost completely unpredictable. Even when the NHL seems to be going the way of throwing parity behind, the unexpected plays a role, not just in how the games are going (No one expected Pittsburgh to be outscored 9-1 in two home games), but also how the narratives are colored for the future. For a future piece, expect to see NBA and NHL pre-playoff predictions matched up to prove the predictability point. And before you say it, I don't like narratives either, but their changing means series and games have taken different turns, while in the NBA the same Lebron narratives are still being played out, and it's getting boring.
The groups of fans for these two sports are very different, but even NBA people have had to admit the Stanley Cup playoffs this year have been far better. Maybe the NBA would sway if the Finals this year wasn't an entirely predictable series, or even if the Heat weren't in it. But even the narratives in that scenario would be too predictable, and the lack of predictability is what makes sports fun to watch. We're all enthralled by the underdog story and the Cinderella team, but for at least one sport we let narratives take over and even if they are predictable, we let them color how we watch. I know some people are into dynasties and the NBA is the sport that will most likely produce dynasties, but when everything surrounding them is predictable, it's not fun anymore. The NHL has managed to capture that even when it seems that they've lost what has made them so fun to watch since 2005.
More people will still watch the NBA Finals, even if they know exactly what will happen before hand. The Stanley Cup playoffs are unpredictable at their core, and that's what makes them fun to watch and follow.
Mr. Silver: If you want me to delete this piece, call me when the Finals series is Bobcats/Timberwolves. I'll be waiting.
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