In Playoffs, NBA Can't Shoe Away Fundamentals

Article excerpt

Right about now, you figure that the boys at NBC are sweating more than Hakeem Olajuwon.

The glamour teams, the marquee players, are getting canceled out of the National Basketball Association playoffs. A variety of newcomers, no-names and mid-market franchises have bum-rushed the show.

Seattle won 63 games this season. Gone. Atlanta finished with the top record in the East. Gone. Phoenix and San Antonio? Gone. Orlando never got started.

And now NBC is looking at a potential Indiana-Houston matchup in the NBA Finals, a real ratings-killer. First, the network loses Letterman, then Michael Jordan, and now this.

Somewhere, NBC executives must be lighting candles, praying that the winner of Sunday's Chicago-New York Game 7 will have enough left to dispose of Indiana in the Eastern Conference title bout.

Whatever. I'm not complaining. I like slam dunks as much as the next fan with a short-attention span, but the 1994 playoff trend is good for the game, if not the TV ratings.

This development will satisfy the purists. Team basketball is making a comeback; the NBA's shoe salesmen have left the arena. Think about it. Just about all of the players we see in those creative Nike and Reebok commercials can no longer be seen in the actual games; their teams have been eliminated.

Orlando and Shaquille O'Neal were swept by anonymous Indiana in the first round. David Robinson and Dennis Rodman have plenty of time to sit in that Nike barbershop; San Antonio got dumped by Utah in the opening round. Same with rookie sneaker-pitchman Chris Webber (Golden State was out in three). And soaring Shawn Kemp never left the ground when Seattle needed to beat underdog Denver.

I'm a big Charles Barkley fan. But Chuck's underachieving Suns - has anyone seen Dan Majerle? - were cashed out by determined, defensive-minded Houston.

Is there a lesson in this? The NBA provides great entertainment, and it's still the best pro sports league in existence. But the hype has gone too far.

I mean, Harold Miner can't even get off Miami's bench, but he has a monster deal with Nike. …