The Demise of the NFL & the Rise of the NBA
There’s something noticeably different about my Sundays this year, and for the most part shit hasn’t really changed at all in terms of what they consist of. Beer, food, and my couch are annual staples of mine on Sundays in the Fall and Winter. It’s been like that for as long as I can remember and it’s the perfect way to wind down the weekend before that dreaded day they call “Monday”. But there’s one ingredient missing from those three this year, arguably the one thing that brings them all together: football. This isn’t to say I haven’t been watching the NFL at all this year; I have. I’ve caught all the Patriots games and I’ll catch a couple of random games here and there, but it’s not even close to being the same. It kind of feels like Season 5 of Martin. It still has all of the familiar faces and the theme song still gets you hype, but you’re just watching it like “something ain’t right”. Or it’s like that first Christmas when you realize you’re old as shit and you just don’t have that “Christmas spirit” you had as a kid. At the end of the day it’s still the holidays and you love being around family, but you don’t wake up at 5am with that same excitement to open presents anymore. Yeah…that’s exactly the feeling right there.
For years, I would tell anyone who asked that the NFL was the best show on television, and the majority of the country agreed with me. There was really no question who was king in America when it came to the 4 major sports, and for good reason. Football was pretty much the only year long sport, it had a greater balance of competition, rules were changed to make offenses more exciting to watch, and it had a recognizable superstar in Odell Beckham Jr. But the league is really a shell of its former self right now, and the reasons as to why that’s the case continue to pile up. Meanwhile, a behemoth has been lurking for years and it’s catching the eye of football’s billionaire owners: The National Basketball Association. This transition has been slow, methodical, and well mapped out, but Adam Silver is picking up right where David Stern left off in terms of increasing the global popularity of basketball. So much so, that there’s a lot of people out there who believe this is the beginning of the NFL’s demise and a changing of the guard in America. Me being one of them.
Let me start by saying that if I were to sit here and try to outline all of the NFL’s problems, we’d be here all day. There are so many scandals that I can’t even keep track of them all. But it seems right to begin with the actual product on the field, which is pretty much trash for lack of a better word. Maybe the most important singular position across all major team sports is the Quarterback position. There are only 32 starting Quarterbacks in the world at a given time, in the entire world. Yet every Sunday when I hear the names of some QBs that are set to start that week, I find myself quoting the NBA on TNT crew and asking “who he play for”? Everyone knows a team’s success is pretty much directly related to quarterback play and there’s no wonder why there are so many bad teams in the NFL. Even some teams with good records only have good records because somebody has to win when two bad teams face off. It’s laughable that teams would literally rather lose games then sign a certain QB who is out of work right now.
The games are just bad and the league knows it. They’re low scoring, injury riddled, and lack any real star power if we’re being honest. Really, sit here and think about who can be considered a mainstream star right now in the NFL. I’ll go with Rodgers, Brady, Watt, OBJ, Zeke, and Antonio Brown. Keep in mind that when I say “star” I mean both on field production and off field endorsements. There are obviously other players that are on par with these guys skill wise but aren’t necessarily household names. Now when I look at that list, 3 of those guys are on IR with season ending injuries, 1 of them is suspended for a domestic violence case, 1 of them is a 40 year old QB that everyone outside of New England is tired of seeing win at this point, and we’re left with Antonio Brown. Speaking of injuries, this has just been a terrible year for the NFL in terms of quality of players who are hurt. The number of injuries are consistent with past years, but you can literally win a Super Bowl with the depth chart of guys on Injured Reserve right now. Without a sport’s biggest stars, what is going to attract viewership? It’s a legitimate question these days to ask someone if they’d let their kid play football, and at this point I’m leaning towards no. The continued research on CTE isn’t going away anytime soon and it seems to be gaining steam.
Now to the off the field stuff, but where the hell do I begin? How often do you have black people and racist white people both boycotting the exact same thing but for two completely different reasons? That’s what we have going on right now with the NFL, and it’s driving ratings down dramatically. What the NFL and its owners and coaches have done to Colin Kaepernick is so…I can’t even put it into words. You have a man who is peacefully and respectfully exercising his right to stand up for what he believes in and give a voice to those without one. He has backed up his words with action and has had more of a positive impact on the community than any owner ever has, and yet he’s somehow a “distraction”. Sometimes I think I’m going crazy or something when I watch how a lot of teams would flat out rather lose with a terrible QB than give a shit what any black man ever cared about. I can’t begin to tell you how angry it makes me when seeing people pretend to actually care one bit about the National Anthem and the American Flag. We know damn well it’s not even about the flag or the anthem; it’s about these black athletes not shutting up and doing what they’re told. Playing the National Anthem before every American sports event is a waste of time anyways if we’re being honest. Unless it’s the Olympics there’s no point, aren’t we playing in the US anyways?
The NFL scams you every chance it gets, to the point where you can just rattle off the scams. They pretend to care about player safety but are money hungry enough to have Thursday Night games. They put on a façade for breast cancer awareness month (after previously fining players for wearing pink on their own) but when one of their players assaults women the punishment is minimal at best. A multi billion dollar organization with billionaire owners was tax exempt until just recently because they were a “non profit”. And this issue is mostly on the players for agreeing to this in the CBA, but these guys are used and discarded when they’re not needed anymore because their contracts aren’t even guaranteed. The same team that will order its players to stand for the national anthem can also cut you without having to pay you a dime if the terms of your contract allow it. Oh, and they will cut you for it.
As bad as the NFL has been the past couple of years, the NBA has been equally good but for longer. One of the biggest, most noticeable differences in the two sports is star power. The NBA is overwhelmingly fueled by the number of recognizable stars it has, and it helps when the vast majority all play with at least 1 or two other stars on the alongside them. You have so many of these players in commercials, endorsing products, speaking their mind on social issues, in movies, and having their own lines of shoes. Fans get an up close and personal experience with NBA players when they go to games; they can hear what they’re saying, see the speed up close, and their favorite player’s face isn’t hidden behind a helmet. We’re in the midst of witnessing the greatest team ever assembled, a transition to 7 footers dribbling and shooting like guards, and triple doubles on a nightly basis. It’s more exciting than ever to watch the game of basketball, where 19-year-old Jayson Tatum can be guarding 40-year-old Vince Carter.
The NBA has now taken over as the model for a year round sport. You can’t tell me this past offseason wasn’t lit, and next year figures to top it even more with LeBron James’ impending free agency. Black America’s presence on Twitter is well documented, and the NBA keeps its fans engaged like no other sport. You had KD and Russ’s beef, Paul George forcing his way out of Indiana, the Ball family in LA, Melo’s never ending battle with Phil Jackson, and of course Kyrie Irving’s exit from Cleveland. There’s always reason to talk about the NBA, but unlike the NFL it’s never something that paints the league in a bad light. What else is also drastically different about the NBA and the NFL? Basketball players keep getting better and better at a younger age, while the opposite seems to be happening to NFL players. Why there’s no type of developmental league in football is a question I still don’t have the answer to.
In no way whatsoever is the NBA perfect. Billionaire owners are billionaire owners at the end of the day, and Donald Sterling and Dan Gilbert reminded us that these guys also view their players with a slave master’s mentality. The Sixers wanted to wear black patches on their jerseys for their game the other night in support of Meek Mill and his current legal problems, but the league threatened to fine them if they did so. And there’s a policy in the NBA that you have to stand for the national anthem, and in light of recent events a memo was sent around to teams before the season started to remind them. But in terms of a progressive organization, the NBA is light years ahead of the NFL. It recognizes the demographic of its viewers and supports its players to speak on the issues that are plaguing the country. It’s been refreshing to hear the words of coaches like Greg Popovich, Stan Van Gundy, and Steve Kerr. Can you even fathom the idea of an NFL coach ever speaking against the President so vehemently? Adam Silver and company is at an advantage though; their core fan base supports its players’ public protests, where a lot of football fans don’t. If we’re keeping it a buck, there’s a hell of a lot of “NASCAR” fans in that NFL fan base, and everybody knows it. Again, the NBA also has a long way to go, but it’s definitely on the right trajectory.
I’m a Patriots fan, and my team has the best odds to win Super Bowl 52 after just winning last year. Our quarterback and our head coach are both the best at all time at their professions and they’ll be together for at least 2 more years. By all measures, you would expect me to be 100% engaged in this NFL season. But all my excitement lies in watching my Boston Celtics, a team with not nearly as good of a chance to win a championship this year than the Patriots. The NBA has “trusted the process” and built a sustainable winner while the NFL got too comfortable. And judging by the rookie class this year and next year’s draft class, there’s another batch of superstars on the way. The NFL is still king in America for now, but if it doesn’t get its act together then it soon could be the National Basketball Association.