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02-17-2007, 12:41 AM
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E.M. Swift of the state of the NBA and the abysmal '94 NBA playoffs:

What passes for Showtime! These days is the snarling, elbow-throwing New York Knicks – egged on by that yapping courtside terrier, Spike (Put a Muzzle on It) Lee – muscling home 70 to 85 points a night against the Jordan-less Chicago Bulls, the low-profile Indiana Pacers and the charisma-less Houston Rockets. It was enough to make hard-court fans pine for the return of Bill Laimbeer, not to mention Magic, Larry, Michael, Isiah, and Dr. J. one or more of whom, until this spring, had been in the finals every year since 1980. “The Knicks' style of play is like Ohio State football,” admits NBA vice president Brian McIntyre. “Three yards and a cloud of dust. It doesn't do much for the average fan.”
As for the low scoring games – point totals were down nearly 5% in both the regular season and the playoffs compared with '92-'93 – there is some question whether they're the result of tight defense or abysmal shooting symptomatic of what USA Today columnist Bryan Burwell calls “an entire generation of slammin', jammin', no-jump-shootig, fundamentally unsound kids who have bought into the NBA's and Madison Avenue's shallow MTV generated marketing of the game.”

Ouch. “There's a real ebb and flow here,” says Thorn, who as head of the NBA's competition committee, is considering such options as widening the free throw lane or making it trapezoidal, and moving the three-point arc closer to encourage outside shooting. Thorn adds, “Five or six years ago they were saying there was no defense in the NBA. Maybe all we have to do is have the referees call the game closer. It's becoming harder to get open because players are impeding progress away from the ball.”
Gee - didn't they start making similar comments about the NHL not long afterwards.

Those were dynamics that the NBA cannot expect to see repeated anytime soon, unless Jordan comes out of retirement. Barkley, now the league's most charismatic player, is nearing the end of his carreer. And few of the emerging stars – Shawn Kemp, Larry Jonhson, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutumbo, Shaquille O'Neal, David Robinson, Chris Webber – have proved themselves to be either: a) capable of sinking a jump shot, a skill that has diminished in the NBA, or b) championship timber. Chicago's Scottie Pippin, one marquee name who does have three rings, will probably never live down his petulent refusal to play the final, critical 1.8 seconds of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Knicks, an incident that was just one of many lowlights the NBA has been exporting to 117 countries during these playoffs. A sampling of others:
  • Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller, during Game 5 of his team's conference semifinals against the Denver Nuggets, duking it out in the stands with a Denver fan.
  • The Atlanta Hawks and the Miami Heat engaging in a bench-clearing brawl during Game 2 of their Eastern Conference first-round series.
  • The Derek Harper-Jo Jo English donnybrook in Game 3 of the Knick-Bull series spilling, before Stern's horrified eyes, into the stands.
  • Utah's clock operator allowing nine crucial seconds to tick off before starting the clock in the final moments of Game 4 of the Jazz-Rockets Western finals.
  • The Pacers losing to the Hawks while scoring a record (low) 69 points
  • The Knicks losing to the Pacers while scoring a record (lower) 68 points.
  • Referee Hoe Hollins making a phantom, game-deciding foul call against Pippin in the final seconds of Chicago's Game 5 loss to New York.
  • Referee Mike Mathis overreacting with a tension-killing flagrant-foul call on Indiana's Reggie Miller in the final seconds of Game 7 of the Knick-Pacers series.
  • Spike Lee taunting Pippen and Miller.
  • Miller Taunting Lee.
But despite all that:
No one is suggesting that the popularity of the NBA is in free fall. During the regular season TV ratings were virtually unchanged from 1992-93. Celebrities – Alec Baldwin, Billy Crystal, Bill Murray – still stud the stands. Two expansion franchises in Toronto and Vancouver, were admitted into theleague after agreeing to pay record-breaking entry fees of $125 million each. And the estimated $300M in retail sales that NBA Properties generated overseas showed that, internationally, there is life after Michael. But since the playoffs began, what has taken the plunge is the NBA's image as the rising star of pro sports.

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