When the playoffs began a few weeks ago, who could have predicted that the most interesting, dramatic, compelling teams were going to be the 4th seed Utah Jazz and the 8th seed Golden State Warriors? Neither team had gotten much national air time, and so had flown under the radar of most viewers. The Mavericks were #1 and crazy dominant; the Suns continue their up-tempo fun ball; the #3 Spurs have been a contender for so long that, while they didn’t get the press of #1 or #2, there’s always a story; #5 Houston had the T-Mac and Yao excitement combo; #6 Nuggets had the AI and Melo show; and, of course, the #7 Lakers are Kobe.
Neither the Jazz nor the Warriors had much a story, and no (at the time) telegenic superstars. The Warriors were assumed DOA, and the Jazz had done so poorly at the end of the season that their prospects were dim.
Yet, as the second round of the playoffs wraps up, the Warriors and Jazz emerge as the most interesting teams to talk about. For the Warriors there’s the Cinderella aspects, dominating the “dominant” Mavs, with the new leader of Show-time, Baron Davis, exciting everyone. The Jazz had the emotional breakdown of Kirilenko to start their series, and then the oh-my-god-afterschool-special-of-the-week story of Derek Fisher’s daughter’s battle with cancer, and his remarkable performance upon returning to the team.
Supposedly, NBA audiences are reliant on having superstars on the floor — your Kobes, your T-Macs, your AIs. What seems to be happening here, though, is that the fans are engaging with the deeper, subtler, and more interesting dramas of teams emerging, unfolding, and evolving before our eyes. Maybe the same qualities that have lead to the success of multi-episode dramas like The Sopranos and Heroes is also priming an audience to find the interesting stories within the playoffs. I know I find it far more interesting than some type of KOBE VS T-MAC showdown.
The Eastern Conference? The less said about them, the (yawn) better.