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VOL. 132 | NO. 204 | Friday, October 13, 2017
Don Wade

Don Wade

What the NBA Needs is an Epic Upset

By Don Wade

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One thing the NBA is not is international soccer. Which is to say, Trinidad and Tobago does not make magic here.

After T&T defeated the United States, 2-1, in a qualifier game for the World Cup, the Americans were eliminated. The Trinidad and Tobago team, not incidentally, already knew it was not advancing to the World Cup.

But there was a genuine chance to play spoiler. As Alvin Corneal, a former coaching instructor and soccer commentator in the Caribbean said of the Americans in an interview with The New York Times: “They got the shock of their lives. I am happy that the U.S.A. should realize that there are other people in the world who exist.”

A bit harsh toward America, but it is not an unexpected sentiment when the underdog finally jumps up and bites his competitive oppressor.

If only the NBA could find its Trinidad and Tobago.

During the recent annual survey of NBA general managers, all 30 were asked to predict this season’s league champion. The reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors received 93 percent of the vote and last year’s runner-up, the champions from the year before, the Cleveland Cavaliers, received 7 percent of the vote. The GMs were not permitted to vote for their own team.

So more than Alabama-Clemson in college football, or anything that happens in the NFL and MLB, the NBA season seems like a fait accompli.

Only the Warriors and, to a lesser extent the Cavaliers, exist. And the serious business does not start until June when the rest of the league is on the golf course.

So let’s ask the obvious question: Is this bad for the NBA? For most of the year, yes.

The 2016-17 NBA Finals between the Warriors and Cavaliers did have the highest TV ratings of any five-game Finals series in league history. It also was the most-watched Finals (on average) since 1998.

The Cavs and Warriors rematch might have felt inevitable, but once it arrived it was treated as a must-see heavyweight bout. LeBron James & Co. in this corner. And Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green in this corner.

Regular season ratings, however, on ABC, ESPN and TNT, dropped 6 percent from the 2015-16 season. It’s tough, after all, to get amped about much that happens in November, or February, when you already know what’s coming in the summer.

Meantime, the two teams that meet in the Super Bowl after this season would seem to be a very open question given that the Kansas City Chiefs were the only undefeated team through Week 5. Still, the NFL’s ratings to this point reportedly were down 7 percent compared to the same period in 2016.

It’s not known how much impact the NFL player protests during the national anthem are having on ratings, but the on-field competition suggests it doesn’t all have to end with another New England Patriots parade.

In baseball, American League favorite Cleveland was ousted in the Division Series by the New York Yankees. And the youngish Yankees winning was actually termed an upset. Because baseball, for all its problems, actually has more competitive balance than the NBA.

What the NBA has, until some team with less of a shot than Trinidad and Tobago proves otherwise, is an 82-game preseason and two months of qualifier series followed by Cavs-Warriors.

At the end, it might make for a compelling championship fight.

Until then, it’s just a bunch of pretenders throwing punches that hit nothing but air.

Don Wade’s column appears in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.

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