The ratings are poor and the competition is lackluster, but please don't blame the Cavaliers. It's not their fault they're the latest team to cause everybody to question how the NBA does its postseason business.
But it does need to be questioned. Among major sports, the NBA is the league with the most anticlimactic postseason. Actually, it goes further than that. The NBA Finals create far less interest and are far less entertaining than the following annual title events:
• Super Bowl
• World Series
• Final Four
• BCS title game
Personally, I'd add the Stanley Cup and the College World Series. For sheer entertainment value, those two far exceed the suspense of the NBA Finals. Not enough people believe that -- television ratings being the almighty arbiter -- though, so it's probably not fair to throw them in the mix.
(By the way, David Stern, if your multibillion-dollar league creates a championship series that is less anticipated than the inanity of the BCS, you're either in need of an overhaul or the guys who manage to keep the industry immensely profitable need a raise.)
The NBA playoffs can be fixed, though. By following a few simple instructions, the NBA can regain its rightful place closer to the top of the athletic food chain. Some of the instructions might seem reactionary, especially as some of them might reduce television exposure and ad revenue, but they'll pay off in the long run.
1. Forget the conferences: A lot of people say this, for good reason. It's the easiest fix, and it'll result in the biggest rewards. Seed the top 16 teams by record and let it fly. You know the routine -- 1 plays 16, 2 plays 15 -- because it's the same one made popular by the NCAA in March. Just pretend your playoff bracket is a regional and be done with it.
2. Reduce the first round to a best-of-three and the second round to a best-of-five: Uh-oh, here's where the guys in charge of the money start to get sweaty. Yes, it reduces the number of games, which reduces television revenue, but see the big picture here. You're creating a sense of urgency where none currently exists. You need urgency, and a better chance for upsets, and a reason to move the damned thing along before spring becomes summer. The postseason is too long -- far too long -- and two rounds of snappy playoffs with everything on the line from Game 1 would go a long way toward changing the dead-leg culture that makes the Finals such a letdown. The best series of this year's postseason came early -- Mavs-Warriors. And you know what would have happened if it had been best-of-three? Warriors win all over again, and Game 3 is an absolute frenzy of all-out play. Heck, Mark Cuban might get banned for life after that one.
3. Throw out the interminable delays: There's no reason teams should sit for three or even four days between games during the first round. Play every other day and be done with it. We're creatures of habit, so don't make us check the paper every day to find out when the games are going to be played. Figure out a way for television to share the games that are being played at the same time. If baseball can figure this out -- or at least come close -- it should be a snap for all the marketing geniuses congregating in Stern's building.
It's not that hard. Call it Three Steps to Relevance. And if you end up with a Spurs-Suns championship series, even better. Until then, remember: Mike Brown's doing his best with what he has.
This Week's List
• We can say all that, but still: Mike Brown can't leave LeBron on the bench that long with minor foul trouble.
• It's Billy's world, and the rest of us are just renting: A's GM Billy Beane got some heat for choosing Bob Geren over Ron Washington to manage his team, but now Oakland is typically overachieving while the Rangers are in the early stages of revolt over Washington's methods.
• Hank Aaron, closer and closer to saying what's really on his mind, and continually finding weirder ways to show it: In Milwaukee last week, the home run king was asked about Barry Bonds and he said, "I don't even know how to spell his name."
• If you find yourself writing a sports column and want to know whether anyone out there is paying attention, here's the quickest way to find out: Write something even slightly derogatory about UFC in particular and mixed martial arts in general.
• Three things you will find out about yourself from reading through some of the hundreds of e-mails: (1) You are either a closeted boxing fan or a boxing fan who is attempting to destroy MMA as a means of keeping boxing alive; (2) you wouldn't last three minutes in the octagon with the writer of the e-mail, and; (3) you are, dear sir, an ass.
• Meanwhile, we're thinking of drafting a Freedom of Information Act request on the therapist's notes: Carlos Zambrano and Michael Barrett, still separated while America awaits the grand reunion.
• Just for the heck of it: Joel Youngblood.
• Now batting eighth: Juan Pierre, protected from intentional walks by the pitcher in the Dodgers' new order.
• Because, as you know, college baseball continually fights the nagging problem of overexposure: A reporter from the Louisville Courier-Journal was booted from the Louisville Super Regional game for providing his readers with a live-action blog during the Cardinals' 20-2 win over Oklahoma State on Sunday.
• And finally, as if we didn't know too much already: John Daly claims his wife, Sherrie, attacked him with a steak knife -- somehow resulting in a face full of catlike scratches -- while she says he assaulted her and scratched himself to cover it up.
Tim Keown is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Sound off to Tim here.