I have lost all desire to follow the NBA at this current moment in my lifetime and I'm not alone. The American male aged 18 to 34 so coveted by businesses and advertisers has lost all interest in professional basketball. No longer are kids and young adults badgering their parents for the latest new sneaker that is worn by their favorite roundballer. In popular culture, basketball jerseys and commercials promoting clever nicknames of NBA stars are mere relics of the past. Attendance and television ratings have also begun to lag for the NBA. I can't help but notice how many winter evenings ESPN's program lineup throughout the week is dominated by college basketball encounters, with the professional game finally getting the spotlight on Friday, the worst night of the week for T.V. viewership. The fact that college basketball and its insanely popular post-season tournament remain in the collective mind of white males, makes me shun the theory of racism being the reason why Caucasians no longer follow the NBA so intently. African-American players are prominent in football, the most popular sport in America by leaps and bounds.
One theory thrown at me before regarding football and its ability to overcome the thug/racism mantra compared to basketball was its use of helmets, that allows the league to have a shroud over its supposed gangbanger employee base. I'm not buying it. If this is true, couldn't the NBA just make their players sport golf visors or more professional looking uniforms (collared polos instead of A-Shirts). Speaking of golf, its rise in popularity is due to the rise of a minority (Tiger Woods) amongst its player base. Not the elimination of people of color from it's ranks.
There are three reasons why I find the NBA struggling in America. One is the prevalent "dogging" of play among players with guaranteed contracts. Second, the league itself has suffered from over expansion. Third, the NBA's theater (basketball arenas) have no crowd excitement.
With contracts guaranteed, NBA players have become aficionados at "mailing in" their seasons statistically and then only playing hard for one season during a contract year. This situation is evident in baseball also, but hasn't seemed to have lessened the charisma within the overall play of the game. I still feel loyalty and a respect for the game of baseball among it's overall players is still increasingly present for which I fail to uncover the same passion around the NBA. Another reason that "dogging" or "mailing it in" is more evident in basketball, is the fact that the game's pace is meant to be so much quicker than baseball. Baseball can hide or avoid having its sluggish players being so announced for the fact they are not always involved on every play during a game. A basketball team, with its five players, is unable to mask a deficient player or players to onlookers. Football as we know, forces players to show up at peak physical shape or face the consequences of being exposed and unemployed the following season.
Along with overpaid loafing players, the NBA has seen its product diminish through the watering down of rosters via team expansion. No longer are the world's great basketball players jumbled together on 22 teams like in the 1980s. Today, the league has expanded to 30 teams with some residing in cities that other sports leagues wouldn't even think about setting foot. For every Sacramento, the NBA has faced a Charlotte, Atlanta, Miami, and New Jersey where fan bases are non-existent. 30 franchises has caused benches to be thinner and ended the ability for teams to have a high-tempo offense with the lack of competent player depth. Now, teams that risk or desire to return to the fast-break days of 20 years ago (that remaining NBA fans love) face the threat of constant injury to their players from logging too many minutes hustling up and down the court. The reason the powerhouse teams of the 80s could constantly fast-break, was they had quite an assortment of capable bench players allowing the starter's legs to remain fresh and keep the quick pace of the games going.
Finally, the NBA has failed to offer the raucous crowds that are commonplace around the nation's college campuses. The NBA has also said goodbye to the old mad-houses that were once on par to college gyms for noise level in the Boston Garden, Chicago Stadium, and the Philadelphia Spectrum. With the loss of the crowd, the league has also lost institutions or traditional venues that fans adore. Baseball has uncovered this little secret and has now reaped the rewards of maintaining old shrines like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field.
Personally, I find watching an NBA game in the new sterile arena settings to be the main culprit for decreased popularity. New basketball venues lack any semblance of energy needed to add excitement in watching a sport where momentum constantly swings in a contest between the two competitors. Crowd volume adds to the level of suction power towards TV viewers. Intense crowd excitement increases the magnitude of a basketball game and the interest of short attention span television viewers. As a kid, I remember getting so excited to watch Chicago Stadium go pitch black with only the simple Bulls logo flashing on the videoboard and Bulls fans going ape over this highly original player introduction. That type of passion has long disappeared around the league.
There are bound to be other arguments for reasons attributed to the leagues declining status among major American sports and I'm all for feedback on those other possibilities. Through all the different theories on the NBA's demise, the fact remains that the NBA is a shadow of its former self.