There are a lot of things to like about NBA TV. Their hoops analysis is certainly way better than ESPN’s, and the NBA Gametime cast has even started to serve as a sort of feeder system for TNT’s Inside the NBA, with such high-upside prospects as Chris Webber and Kevin McHale proving their mettle before being promoted to the pros. Their draft coverage is generally solid, and their preseason team-by-team rundowns are always a fun primer in early autumn. They show press conferences, Summer League games and D-League action that you can’t find anywhere else, not to mention pretty much the entirety of last year’s international championships.
But for as much quality programming as they have, they have an equal amount of filler — especially during the playoffs, where the schedule becomes an unforgivably rote rotation of NBA Gametime (useful, but only for a half-hour), NBA Playoffs Playbacks (didn’t we just watch these games like a day ago?) and NBA “Sounds of the Playoffs”-yype fare (not nearly as revelatory as they seem to think).
They can do better. I’ve long held the opinion that of the trademark channels of the four major North American sports, NBA TV is probably the least creative and fun with their programming, which seems inexplicably indebted to a set schedule that I can’t imagine any basketball fan actually sets their watch to. Where are the roundtable discussion or debate shows? Beyond the occasional NBA Hardwood Classic, where’s the retrospective programming? And, for the love of God, where are the countdowns?
They could use a healthier dose of all of these and more, and there’s no time to start than these NBA finals, a time at which the public’s appetite for pro hoops is positively insatiable, despite the fact that there’s only now a single game every two or three days.
Here’s a list of five things — some general, some specific — that I wish I could be watching on NBA TV this week, while I stick pins in my Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem voodoo dolls and tattoo the lyrics to “German Moses” on my arm.
1. 2006 Finals Replays
I think I might have seen one or two of these over the course of the week, but good lord, do the NBA TV people know how rare and cool it is to get a Finals that’s a rematch of two teams that have actually played each other in Finals past and still share a number of relevant players? (Well, it was rare and cool before Lakers-Celtics: The Third Generation, anyway.)
They should have been marathoning the 2006 Finals games for days straight before the series started, and now they should still be showing at least one of them a day. Maybe get some experts from both teams in the studio to compare the teams across the years, and talk about how Devin Harris in ’06 stacks up against JJ Barea in ’11, or whether Dwyane Wade was getting fairer foul calls then or now, or if Adrian Griffin is an even bigger “That guy started for a team that made the FINALS??” headfuck than DeShawn Stevenson.
Instead, I gotta flip to ESPN Classic, where they at least showed three ’06 Finals games in a row last Tuesday. Shameful.
2. Regular Season Matchups
So the ’06 Finals thing, that’s unique to these two teams who are in the Finals this year, but every Finals matchup has at least two regular-season prequels to rehash. The Heat and Mavs played two very interesting games this year, both Mavs wins — one in Dallas that was while the Heat were still trying to find cohesion and got crushed, and another in Miami (I was there!) that marked Mike Miller’s first game back from injury, and which the Heat were a Chris Bosh three-pointer (It was close!) away from sending the game in to overtime.
If those two largely meaningless regular-season games were played before the four-to-seven most meaningful games of the NBA season, would you want to watch them to see what kind of clues they might contain about the matchup that lies ahead? Of course you would. And it’s unconscionable that NBA TV should deprive us of any such possible foreshadowing.
3. Single-Game Playoff Commentaries
Some of the best TV of any kind this season has been produced by MLB TV as part of their 20 Greatest Games series. If you’ve missed out, what they do is show clips from games voted as the 20 greatest of all-time, while holding a running commentary moderated by people like Bob Costas and Tom Verducci, and featuring discussion with one or two of the key figures involved with the game who dispense insight as to what it was like to be on the field and in the dugout for those nine-plus innings. Why every sports network hasn’t instantly (and shamelessly) copied this format, I can’t imagine, because it makes for absolutely transfixing television.
How awesome would it be to get Kevin Durant and Zach Randolph in for a discussion of that triple-overtime game in the Thunder-Grizzlies series? What about Brandon Roy walking us through the Blazers’ 16-point comeback against the Mavs in round one? Or Carmelo and Paul Pierce breaking down those tightly contested first two Knicks-Celtics games in Boston? It’s one thing just to show hour-long highlight playbacks of these games, but to add the commentary and insight of those involved — and c’mon, it’s not like those guys have anything else to do these weeks anyway — would make them absolutely must-watch affairs.
4. Dissenting Opinions
Leading up to the Finals, the league’s general hype machine can get so thick and boring that you just want to scream out for someone to say something that you haven’t heard before. So round up a couple of the NBA TV knuckleheads that have a big mouth and not that much to lose — personally, I think Jerry Stackhouse has fantastic potential — and get them to talk about what nobody else is talking about.
What flaws have Dirk and LeBron showed through these first three rounds? Has Erik Spoelstra demonstrated that Pat Riley’s potential impact on this team was always overrated? Why are the performances of Brendan Haywood and Mario Chalmers secretly the keys to this series? The public demands to know these things, and they certainly aren’t going to find out about them anywhere else. Show a little backbone, NBA TV.
5. Countdowns, Countdowns, Countdowns
Doesn’t NBA TV know that history doesn’t matter until it’s compiled into easily-digested countdown form? Now that the season is almost over, I want to see absolutely everything from this year’s worth of basketball games to be rated, ranked and discussed. The best teams. The best players. The best single-game performances. The best playoff performances. The biggest choke jobs. The weirdest buzzer-beaters. The most hilarious triple-doubles. The dumbest off-the-court controversies. The most idiosyncratic announcer calls. The most over-the-top fan reactions. The most pathetic blown dunks and layups. I want it all, and I want it listed from at least 10 to 1. Otherwise, this has all been nothing but white noise.
It’s the Finals, NBA TV — about time you fucking stepped up your efforts accordingly. At least try to make it look like you’re trying.