Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

NBA Playoffs Try Patience of Even Diehard Fans

The NBA playoffs go on so interminably that unless you're in a city with a team still left standing, who can even remember that it's this season they're still playing? Isn't it bizarre?

Even as we start the NBA finals tomorrow, there's been more interest in the draft for next year. Note to Commissioner David Stern, who loves having games start late at night and be separated by days and days — and more days — in order to get better TV coverage: This is what is called being hoisted on your own petard.

In fact, there is so much interest in the draft of the future that a couple weeks ago when all they had was a lottery merely to determine the order in which teams would draft, that made the front pages of sports sections — something the games of the present are themselves struggling to do. It was NBA Powerball over NBA basketball.

Of course, it is true that in the actual draft, there are two very glamorous prospects — Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. Oden, in fact, has already signed to appear on a bubble-gum card with the mythical Bill Russell. What a way to start. This is the equivalent of Fred Thompson being able to kick off his presidential campaign with an endorsement from George Washington.

Both Oden and Durant and other teenage prospects had to bivouac in college this year because of the new rule which prohibits players jumping from high school to the NBA. The NCAA is thrilled with this Head Start program for seven-footers, trumpeting it as a boon for education.

This is, of course, pure hogwash. Come on. All a player has to do is stay eligible for one semester with the help of baby-sitter tutors, and then keep a bed warm in the dormitory through March Madness.

Naturally, the NBA profits from this arrangement, though, because these kids bring a season's worth of national publicity into the league. Meanwhile, somewhere out there now, the NBA is still playing games. None start till after 9 p.m. Eastern and none are on a Friday or Saturday night — which is why school children or people who actually go to work in the morning have no idea how fabulous LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers has been.

Of course, you could watch the National Hockey League finals, which are allegedly still in progress. But then, the NHL is being played so far underground that only archeologists can find it.

It's an old complaint that sports seasons run on too long. OK, more games do mean more money, but if your championships are so overlooked, then I believe that it diminishes the whole league. The NHL and NBA regular seasons ended so long ago that the championships are like an army that's gotten too far ahead of its supplies.

Only dyed-in-the-wool fans are watching by now — and it's the fringe fans who determine a sport's popularity, its standing in our culture. June is simply no time for winter sports. It's March Madness for a good reason — it's March. By now, it's June Jejune.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford