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Allen: NBA benefits from NHL lockout (Sept. 20)

Chris Allen | Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The NBA is officially “where getting lucky happens.”

Since it really became a mainstream professional sporting organization in the mid-20th century, the National Basketball Association has been a league of cyclical popularity. Don’t look now, but the cycle is officially back at its peak. Football may be America’s obsession, and baseball its pastime, but basketball is America’s spectacle – and it’s gaining ground too. In the wake of this week’s NHL lockout, on the heels of yet another Olympic gold in men’s basketball and propelled by a series of blockbuster trades, the NBA is headed for its best season in 30 years. Face it: America has three marquee sports again.

Of course, the smile on NBA commissioner David Stern’s face owes a lot to do with the failures of his former protégé Gary Bettman and yet another NHL work stoppage. The absence of the ‘other’ winter sport on televisions and in arenas around the country and in Canada will shift the attention of casual sports fans to the NBA to whet their appetites. And what a menu they will find. The NBA is as commercial and enticing to fans as it has arguably ever been.

Because there are so few players on the court at once, the NBA has always been a league that financially and commercially peaks and falls with the quality of its stars. In the 1980s, the two most popular stars in the league – Magic Johnson and Larry Bird – represented the yin and yang of American culture, and the NBA thrived in their stardom. The 1990s brought Michael Jordan, who transcended the game of basketball and became a world icon. Together, Jordan, Bird and Johnson made basketball a worldwide phenomenon at the 1992 Summer Olympics. But after Jordan, the stars grew dimmer. Tim Duncan won championships, but with a quiet, bland personality. Kobe Bryant won championships, but a sexual assault trial hurt his relationship with the fans. Slowly but surely, under the pall of the lean financial years of the 2000s, the stars trickled back into the NBA.

LeBron James in 2003. Carmelo Anthony in 2003. Dwight Howard in 2004. Chris Paul in 2005. Kevin Durant in 2007. The stars are back in the NBA, and they are marketable. With the NHL lockout removing any competition for viewership, the NBA is poised for its biggest season since its heyday in the late ’80s. How considerate of Mr. Bettman to move out of the way.

Some may bemoan the era of the “superteam” in the NBA, a trend started by James’ defection to Miami prior to the 2010-11 season, but the trend is a blessing in disguise for a league that needed a spark. This season will feature a marquee back-and-forth contest of oneupmanship between the two superteams hoarding much of the league’s elite talent – the reigning champion Heat and the rejuvenated Lakers. Meanwhile, the young and homegrown Thunder give small market fanbases hope, and a reason to believe in young stars – like New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, the top rookie to enter the NBA since James.

So while the NFL enters the thick of its schedule, college football holds your attention on Saturdays and Major League Baseball looks to crown a champion, take a peek ahead at what could be a landmark season for the NBA, one it needs so desperately. And take a second to thank Gary Bettman for the assist.

Contact Chris Allen at callen10@nd.edu
The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.