This post is for the casual basketball fan, not the over-eager basketball jones like me but the one who tunes in to only a few games a year, knows a few big named players and can probably pick LeBron, Kobe and maybe Dwayne Wade out of a line-up, but not Paul George.
That’s right. Paul George. In case you hadn’t heard, he’s the guy leading the best team in the league in scoring. You just don’t know him because he’s just not on every third commercial you see on TV.
To those casual basketball fans, I feel compelled to tell you that the two most “boring” and “uncharismatic” teams in the NBA, the Indiana Pacers and the San Antonio Spurs, are a combined 32-5. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
The Indiana Pacers, the Eastern Conference team most likely to stand in the way of a Heat Three-Peat, might not be flashy but they’ve lost only two games so far this season. They are the best defensive team in the league and while that might not sell tickets or attract ratings, it attracts W’s.
The Spurs, perennially a 50-win team ever since Tim Duncan moved to Texas, are also up to their old tricks, starting the season 15-3. They are well-coached and are loaded with veterans that know how to win.
The only problem is that San Antonio and Indiana don’t draw.
I’m not talking about their own attendance. The Spurs sell out nearly every home game. The Pacers, while not at the bottom of the league in attendance, still have a healthy, dedicated fan base.
On the road, the interest in seeing San Antonio and Indiana is an entirely different story.
According to a Vivid Seats report, despite their winning ways, nobody wants to pay to see these teams play. As you might imagine when the Miami Heat circus rolls into town, tickets are hard to come by. Ticket sales go up 140%. We just can’t seem to get enough of Bron Bron. But ask the casual fan to spend his hard earned money on Roy Hibbert or to even name the starting lineup of the Indiana Pacers and therein lies the rub: the marketing backlash of the NBA. The Pacers lack the flash that the NBA has so fervently promoted since the days of Michael, Magic and Larry. Kobe Bryant still has it. Heck, he’s not even playing and the Lakers are a bigger road draw than Indy and San Anton.
Winning a championship might not even help their cause. The soft-spoken Tim Duncan has four rings and even HE doesn’t draw fans on the road. According to the Nielsen ratings, the Spurs were in two of the least watched NBA Finals ever.
According to the Vivid Seats report, the Pacers are actually a NEGATIVE draw. It’s as if a family of four is sitting at home looking for something to do that night, find out the Pacers are visiting their local arena and decide AGAINST going. They’re 17-2, people!
For the purists among us, the Pacers, and Spurs for that matter, play an impressive brand of basketball. They are among most complete teams in the league. The problem is that George Hill and David West aren’t pimping Nike or T-Mobile every chance they get.
So the task of marketing these ‘lesser charismatic’ teams now rests firmly on the shoulders of Adam Silver, the successor to David Stern. For whatever reason, the best team in the league is 25th in the league in attendance making the Pacers the Tampa Bay Rays of the NBA.
I can only guess that this is an indictment of the casual fan, that we choose flash over foundation, glitz and glamour over glue. That’s a shame.
Those of us who truly enjoy the game will watch intently as the Pacers attempt to dethrone King James and company. The rest of you are just missing out.
So where do we go from here? Do we resign ourselves to the fact that the game itself is marketable but certain teams are not?
When it’s all said and done, who would we rather have as our champion? A team that’s not sound, like the Los Angeles Clippers, who the Pacers just beat on the road, or a team that knows what they’re doing and can beat you in a number of ways. Of that recent Pacers win in L.A., Roy Hibbert took a potshot at the Clippers’ penchant for flying through the air with the greatest of ease by saying “Dunks are nice, wins are better.” The Pacers could use a lot more smack talk to get the fringe fan to tune in. When they do, they’ll find themselves watching some damn good basketball.