So one week away from the official start of the college football season, two weeks away from the start of the NFL season, and all the talk is — yikes — basketball. NBA basketball.
Never mind Major League Baseball or the NFL or the NHL or college sports or golf or tennis or even soccer. When it comes to garnering year-round coverage, the NBA now sets the pace.
Take this past week. The big story wasn’t the Dodgers’ amazing season, or New England’s chances at another NFL crown, or which college football team might be the surprise of the upcoming season. The big story was the Kyrie Irving/Isaiah Thomas trade.
News broke Tuesday night the Cleveland Cavaliers had shipped Irving, its disgruntled star guard, to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Thomas, the mighty-mite volume scorer, plus Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and (most importantly) the Brooklyn Nets’ unprotected first-round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
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The blockbuster was the latest in a summer of basketball bombshells. Los Angeles Clippers star guard Chris Paul engineered his own trade to the Houston Rockets to join James Harden. Faced with losing Paul George to free agency, the Indiana Pacers shipped the star forward to the Oklahoma City Thunder. On the night of the NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls unexpectedly sent their best player, Jimmy Butler, to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Meanwhile, Saturday brought reports that after evaluating Thomas’ injured hip, the Cavaliers were considering asking the league office to void the Irving trade, or at least have the Celtics come up with a different package.
This is nothing new. Last summer was dominated by Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant joining forces with the Golden State Warriors. Before that, it was LeBron James’ decision to leave the Miami Heat and return his talents to Cleveland.
That is the NBA’s offseason advantage right there. Players can move. And they do. Once upon a time, the so-called “Hot Stove League” kept baseball relevant with numerous speculated/executed trades and free-agent moves. The sport’s long-term contracts have cut down such transactions. And when was the last NFL trade that blew your socks off?
I love football. I was raised on the Cleveland Browns. I attended my first Kentucky football game in 1967 and saw Dicky Lyons score every point in a 22-7 UK win over West Virginia. I’ve watched more than my fair share of NFL exhibition games this month. The NFL still commands the highest television ratings.
Those ratings were down eight percent last year, however. And the league’s offseason has bent toward the negative — continued national anthem protests which infuriate a significant segment of the fan base; studies that link football players to CTE, including the report last month that found 99 percent of the brains of former players donated for examination contained the disease. There are real concerns about the future of the sport.
Meanwhile, despite Golden State beating Cleveland in just five games, the NBA Finals enjoyed its highest TV ratings since 1998. By most metrics, the NBA outdistances the NFL and MLB on social media, speaking to its popularity with young fans. James, Durant, Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook are four of the most recognizable athletes on the entire planet.
There’s no reason to believe the sport’s popularity is about to plateau, either. Lonzo Ball may be the most talked-about NBA rookie in years. (The NBA Summer League TV ratings continue to grow.) Stories are popping up about Anthony Davis possibly leaving the Pelicans after this coming season to join the Celtics. James is entering the last year of his contract with Cleveland. Where might LeBron take his talents next?
Plus, there is already talk that with Duke’s Marvin Bagley, Missouri’s Michael Porter, Jr., Texas’ Mohammed Bamba and Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton, the top of the 2018 NBA Draft could be the best in years.
So football fans, enjoy the start of the season. Just don’t be surprised if our friends are talking basketball.
NBA player movement for 2017-18
Some of the player movement during the off-season: