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In Sports Commentary

The popularity of the NBA in the US has slipped in recent years... (PHOTO: Allen Fredrickson )

In Sports Commentary

... despite the international surge led by players like China's Yi Jianlian. (PHOTO: Allen Fredrickson )

Why can't the NBA keep pace in popularity polls?


The people at Harris Interactive polling have been sampling the American pulse longer than I've been alive. So, when Harris speaks, America listens.

The most recent Harris poll is an annual one, designed to determine America's favorite sport.

I must confess I'm not surprised by the results, except one for which I have no answer.

Pro football is America's favorite sport, with 30 percent proclaiming it so. Baseball was second with 15 percent. In the 20 years of the poll, football has gained and baseball has lost about the same number, indicating that football's growth in popularity came at baseball's expense.

After baseball came college football (12 percent) , auto racing (10 percent), hockey (5 percent) and then pro basketball, college basketball and golf were tied at 4 percent.

I guess I'm not surprised by many of those results, with the possible exception of hockey. Professional basketball is the one that really floors me and leaves me searching for an explanation.

Ten years ago this same poll found that 13 percent of American sports fans considered pro basketball their favorite sport. In 10 years, that figure has dropped 10 points. Pro hoops is now equal to the popularity of golf, for God's sake.

I don't understand what happened.

First of all, I think professional basketball players are the best athletes in the world. They need size, stamina, strength, speed and hand-eye coordination. Everything.

Watch Elgin Baylor, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan or LeBron James perform their craft. There is no athlete in any other sport that can match them.

Pro basketball offers fans the best and closest look at the athletes. In football, players are hidden beneath uniforms, pads and helmets. By comparison, basketball players are nearly naked. You can see both their athletic moves and the expression on their faces. It is often dramatic theater.

The speed of the pro game is breathtaking and the grace and power of the players is evocative of world-class dance. It can leave your eyes wide with wonder.

Then how come basketball is so far down the popularity list? Why does it trail auto racing?

One thing I hope is that it's not because basketball has a reputation as a "black" sport. In a country where the chance of electing a black president is a real thing, I can't believe sports fans would let the color of athletes dictate preference.

Perhaps it's salaries, along with the perception of worth. I continue to hear people complain that NBA players just loaf until the final quarter and here they are, the highest paid players in professional sports.

I can't even begin to calculate how many professional basketball games I've seen. And I have great trouble remembering any game when the players just mailed it in. Maybe some have given up at the end of a hopelessly lost game. But as for loafing and dogging it, I just don't that often.

It's surely not entertainment value. Go to a Bucks game. With music, cheerleaders, tumblers and gymnasts consuming most breaks, there is entertainment from the beginning of the game, through timeouts and halftime, until the game comes to an end.

I don't know why the game has slipped so far. But, I assume I am not alone in my wonder and NBA executives see the handwriting on the wall.

They've got to figure out some way to reverse this trend. Or the next time Harris takes a poll, pro basketball might have trouble beating men's tennis or speed skating for favoritism. And that would be a shame.


Talkbacks

chksng19 | Feb. 12, 2008 at 2:02 p.m. (report)

The reason they can't keep pace is simple: silly salaries for tempermental over-grown children to see *maybe* three exciting minutes of effort in a full game. Who wants to pay the high admission fees when the first three quarters are basketball played with no effort? If the NBA wants to draw more fans, do what the NFL does, or Hockey; make the ENTIRE GAME EXCITING. Tell those multi-millionaires that to earn their salaries, they have to play the way that we did in high school... every minute, every game.

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soboMP3 | Feb. 12, 2008 at 1:54 p.m. (report)

I would consider myself a huge Milwaukee Bucks fan. But honestly, my interest has been dwindling in the team (different subject) and the NBA in general. I think you can pin the severe decrease in interest of the NBA on three major things: 1) Guaranteed Contracts - Players will have an incredible contract year only to sign a large deal and become a shadow of their amazing selves. They will not be penalized for this at all. 2) David Stern - He has tried to unsuccessfully transform the NBA into a theatrical/acrobatic act. The defense, the fundamentals of the game have been thrown out the window. Fouls for fundamental issues are rarely called anymore, and its getting close to ridiculous. 3) Length of Schedule - The 82 game schedule is BORING. I can't think of any other team sport (hockey maybe?) that starts pre-season in October and ends in the middle of June for a total of 8 months! The lockout 50-game schedule seems to be the sweet spot. Lets face it, the NBA is in a downward spiral in its current state. I think its going to need a change, possibly starting at the top.

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James A. Naismith | Feb. 12, 2008 at 11:56 a.m. (report)

Yet, the NFL's near champion this year cheats and the Super Bowl still gets watched by millions. Granted it was a good game, but still how can cheating be condoned by a sports league? At least the NBA is somewhat clean and free of scandal. MLB sure isn't. Roids, anyone?

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Orca | Feb. 12, 2008 at 11:52 a.m. (report)

It's the 'tude dude. Remember baseball's long gone "Just give me your money and you can watch us play" attitude? It lives in the NBA.

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Bee Tee | Feb. 12, 2008 at 11:37 a.m. (report)

I know I'd like pro basketball more if I could afford to attend the games. But I can't, so there you go. Sadly, the arrival of Miller Park has sent baseball prices way up. But Bucks games have always been priced out of my league.

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