Friday, June 6, 2008

Off on the Right Foot

If I'm David Stern, Thursday night's Game 1 between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers was exactly what I was looking for out of the 2008 NBA Finals.

The game, which Boston took 98-88, was full of drama and action, but more importantly, it was the sort of game capable of drawing in the casual fan. Those not accustomed to watching the NBA on a regular basis are the key demographic for the league, particularly in light of declining TV ratings for the NBA Finals in recent years.

The Lakers-Celtics rivalry is a story unto itself, and though I grew up in the 1980s, I don't recall many of the battles between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. I don't remember Worthy and McHale and Pat Riley and Red Auerbach, so if nothing else, this series is providing me with an intense and entertaining history lesson.

Even better, the teams playing this year are already adding their own chapter. Game 1 was one of the postseason's most competitive games -- behind Game 1 of the Spurs-Suns series. Competitive games always help TV ratings and interest; last year's San Antonio sweep over the Cleveland LeBrons did nothing for the league.

The other storylines are obvious: can Kobe Bryant win his first title without Shaquille O'Neal? And if he does, how does he fit in the conversation with Michael Jordan? What of Boston's Big Three? Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were brought together specifically for the purprose of bringing the NBA title back to Beantown. And this is just the second time Garnett has advanced past the first round of the playoffs -- what would a ring mean to his legacy?

I won't even begin to try answering these questions, nor will I debate the validity or severity of Pierce's knee injury Thursday night. All that matters is the first game in the most important rivalry in the NBA was exciting and dramatic.

If the rest of this series unfolds in much the same manner -- preferably taking seven games in the process -- I might just become an NBA fan. For all the talk of how the Stanley Cup Finals could potentially help the NHL get back some of its fan base, I think the NBA realizes the possible benefits an exciting series would have on the casual fan.

Guys like me.

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