People who write that the NBA is “boring” or “uncompetitive” or “ruined,” have this in common: they are as close to objectively wrong as you can be.
This might seem a bit unkind. I mean, how can you be objectively wrong about finding something boring? It’s because these are not intimate reflective essays about personal boredom. These are critiques of the NBA meant to observe broader fan trends and influence public opinion. These are always about how the NBA is boring and that’s dangerous for the league.
Boredom and ruination: The actual data
How could we check if the league is boring? Check the TV ratings, and what do you know, they’ve set records this year and last. People love to see greatness and also to cheer like hell against the favorites. The ratings for last year’s post-Durant-move “boredom” were higher than the already record viewership of 2015 and 2016:
The numbers only grew from there. The first Warriors-Cavs rematch, in 2016, saw average viewership climb to 20.2 million. Then last year, despite a ho-hum five-game affair, they rose even further, to 20.5 million. That’s an astounding number — the highest since all the way back to that Michael Jordan-Karl Malone classic of 1998, ancient history in television-viewership terms....
This year’s number probably won’t reach 20 million. But it will still exceed 18 million. (Overall NBA viewership was up 8 percent this past regular season, by the way; on ABC in particular it rose by 17 percent. The Warriors and the Cavaliers were the two most-watched teams, but a significant margin.)
18+ million is still more than any year in the supposedly un-ruined part of NBA history. The last year to beat it: 2001, the last year of the Kobe Bryant - Shaquille O’Neal threepeat Lakers which incidentally was an”uncompetitive” 5 game demolition of the Allen Iverson 76ers. And the previous year to beat 18 million was... 1998, the last year of the Michael Jordan second three-peat! Let’s face it, NBA fans love the hell out of superteams despite what sportswriters think is boring. A chart from Wikipedia:
How about jersey sales? #1 is the ringleader of boredom, Stephen Curry, #3 is king traitorous snake Kevin Durant. The audience is NOT bored.
And NBA revenue has continued to go up every year, with a massive jump after Durant’s league-ruining move.
The NBA has never been more successful than since Durant destroyed the league. All the business metrics are going up:
2017-18 NBA ratings were up across all four networks when compared to last season. ABC led the way at +17%, while TNT was +13%, ESPN +4% and NBA TV +1%. It was the NBA’s highest-rated season in five years.
NBA fans are not just staying home to watch the action on TV, either. Attendance for regular season games increased for the fourth straight season reaching 22.1 million.
Other league products and services were strong as well. The NBA’s streaming provider League Pass [which sucks technologically - author], grew its subscriber count by 63% when compared to 2016-17. Online merchandise sales reported an increase of 25% from one year ago. According to Forbes, the average value of an NBA franchise now stands at $1.65 billion, an increase of 22% from last year.
So any time you see someone worry that the league is ruined, you know that’s wishful thinking, not reality.
Competitiveness: The actual data and stories
Complaints about low competitiveness are particularly pathetic this year. These playoffs gave us dual semifinals with 3-2 comebacks with the road team down double digits in Game 7. Up until the last possible days, we had no idea who was going to the Finals. (And yet you still have people complaining that sure the series is awesome, but the individual games aren’t. One gets the sense that the next complaint will be not enough lead changes in the fourth quarters.)
2018 Finals had classic Games 1 and 3 settled in the last minute, and even Game 2 had Curry setting a record. Game 1 launched a thousand memes and referee conspiracies. You aren’t getting more exciting playoffs than this.
Well, maybe people knew who was going to win all along? Nope. Before the playoffs began, Houston and Golden State had similar betting odds to win the championship at playoff start. People did not know who was going to win, with the Warriors finishing the year badly and Curry being injured. Even the computers were confused, with 538 giving the Warriors an 11% chance of making the Finals and 6% chance of winning the title. (Cavaliers were at 6% to make the Finals, 2% to win.) So please, don’t say it was boring and you knew who was going to win all along; that’s just a sad look.
And even worse, it was the rare year with so many playoff series with compelling questions.
- Can the Donovan Mitchell Utah Jazz overcome the ill-fitting OKC Thunder Russell Westbrook / Paul George / Carmelo Anthony experiment?
- Can Anthony Davis’ Pelicans strangle Damian Lillard with double teams?
- Will John Wall’s teammates mutiny?
- Can the Process 76ers keep their premature success streak alive and overcome the injured Celtics?
- Can Victor Oladipo, derided as “no help” for Westbrook, drag the Pacers past LeBron James?
- Can the injured Celtics out-youth and out-smart the Cavaliers?
- Can the cold calculating schemer Houston Rockets upset the Warriors? Can Chris Paul and James Harden break through?
- Can the Cavaliers play valiantly enough in the Finals to convince LeBron James to stay?
Boredom as helpless anger
Now I don’t doubt that many writers are personally feeling what they think is boredom. I was once told “boredom is the psychological analogue of anger.” So when you’re mad at, say, unfairly having to do some chore, you say you’re bored. Or a person you resent is “so boring.” And I can’t help noticing a pattern that many people who write “the NBA is boring” tend to also believe the following: It was unfair that Kevin Durant joined the Warriors, and they feel helpless. This has different flavors of course: Durant was cowardly, traitorous, misguided; the Warriors were cowardly, anti-competitive, lucky; the NBA system is broken to allow this. Lots of flavors, all the same meat. And let’s spell out the obvious: the morality of the Durant decision really doesn’t have anything to do with how competitive the NBA is, yet it’s so often intertwined!
Random examples from the first page of Google “nba boring”:
Crying unfair, a tradition like no other
So to sum up, arguments that the NBA is boring/uncompetitive/ruined are objectively wrong and against all available evidence. And often they coincidentally are often found side by side with helplessness over resentment from the Durant decision.
The funny thing is that the league has been “unfair” almost uninterrupted since the millennium.
- 2017. Unfair that Durant joined a 73-win Warriors team.
- 2015-2016. Unfair that Curry signed a cheap contract when he was injured. Unfair that LeBron stacked another superteam with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.
- 2011-2014. Unfair that LeBron James ganged up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form a three-superstar team.
- 2008-2010. Unfair that the league allowed Pau Gasol to get traded to the Kobe Bryant Lakers for Kwame Brown. Also unfair that Danny Ainge added to the Paul Pierce Celtics Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in a sweetheart deal with his old teammate Kevin McHale.
- 2005-2007. Fair but the worst TV ratings of the era.
- 2004. Unfair that the Lakers added hall-of-famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton to the team.
- 2000-2003. Unfair that the Lakers got Shaq as a free agent and stole Kobe on draft day.
- 1999. The lockout-shortened season made the playoffs unfair.
So with that, may Warriors fans continue to ignore these pieces to enjoy this stretch of fragile success and may anti-Warriors fans also ignore these pieces and return to hating Golden State and pressuring their team’s ownership to beef up their own teams.