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Why do we keep watching? A problem for the predictable NBA

I had a bit of an awakening this week while listening to the Dan Le Batard Show from Wednesday. I know, I reference the show frequently, but when they're right, they're right. Almost everyone (with me leading the charge), bought into the belief that the Celtics were dead and gone, buried like cheese. Then, they storm into the playoffs and turn the conventional wisdom. So now they're viewed as the great David, providing such a surprising storyline for the NBA playoffs. But how much of a surprise is it when a team that started the season with championship aspirations and a 23-5 start gets to the Eastern conference Final? The Suns have also provided a fun story about a team that's where it shouldn't be. But realistically, the Suns never had a chance of besting the overwhelming Lakers. They got there by beating a beat-up Portland and an aging San Antonio who matched up well against Dallas. Last year on the Le Batard show, they had Jeff Van Gundy on to discuss the upcoming season. When the co-host, Stugotz, went to emphasize the lack of true contenders for the title, he said only six teams had a shot. Van Gundy's reply? "Who's the sixth?" Jeff Van Gundy interview - The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz, October 27, 2009 [podcast][/podcast] Los Angeles. Cleveland. Boston. Orlando. Maybe San Antonio. Those were the teams that had a shot in the beginning of the year. Those were the teams that legitimately had a shot in May. The Celtics also show a fatal flaw in the way the regular season works. They shot out to that sizzling start, then shut it down after the start of 2010, becoming a .500 team after going 23-5. Many (again, including me) fell for the playing possum trick, and the rested Celtics are proving the doubters wrong. But what does it show to supporters of the league that a team can fall asleep for four months and then reemerge as a title contender? What kind of true competition is there? In almost every other sport, there's some level of parity and competition. Even though it's hackneyed and cheesy, the "Any Given Sunday" principle makes the NFL unbelievably watchable. The proof is in the astronomical ratings of everything it televises, including a program of name-reading that beat a live NBA sporting event. Baseball has its Yankees and Red Sox, but a 83-win team like the Cardinals can sneak in and take the title, not to leave out the unheralded Marlins in 2003. Hockey, for all its warts, has perhaps the best postseason of any major American team sport. Want proof? Just watch the seventh-seeded Philadelphia Flyers have home ice against the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadians in the Eastern Conference Finals, after the Habs took out Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby in successive rounds, and the Flyers came back from 3-0 down - twice - to knock out the choking dog Boston Bruins. Perhaps you don't want that much craziness. But when the 1-vs.-8 upset has happened only three times since the 16-team format was installed in 1984 (and one of those was the strike-skewed Knicks-Heat upset of 1999), while it's happened nine times since 1994 in the NHL, you can see the competitiveness is not close. (Note: The 1/8 upset of Dallas by Golden State in 2007? We all saw that coming, right?) Unfortunately, I really don't have an answer to the problem. Basketball is an amazing sport, but the Association is stuck with a pretty unfollowable product from the general sports fan's perspective. The talent (Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant) will always draw some eyes, but a regular season game or a playoff game without one of those type of guys will NEVER draw significant viewership. And for a league that is suddenly losing money hand-over-fist, that's a problem that must be resolved.