As the Finals get set to hit a new ratings high, sports media has already beaten all the tired story lines — and LeBron James — into the ground
The storylines around this year's NBA Finals could make Hollywood jealous:
Is LeBron James the next Michael Jordan? Is LeBron the next Pau Gasol? Is Dirk Nowitzki the next Willis Reed?
Those hyperbolic storylines — which, in many cases, have overshadowed some pretty good games — could conclude tonight at Miami's American Airlines Arena. A loss by the local Miami Heat will prove decisive in the best of seven championship-round series, giving the league title to the underdog Dallas Mavericks.
A Miami win, meanwhile, would give the star-crossed heat new life, sending the fate of the league's O'Brien Trophy to a decisive Game 7 on Tuesday night.
Both games will be broadcast live on ABC, with Sunday night's game tipping off at 8 p.m. ET.
The ratings should be nothing short of huge, with not-decisive Game 4 last Sunday generating an audience rating of 11.1, the best Finals TV number in seven years.
Certainly, given the media ramp-up to these games, all of which have been very closely contested, it's hard to imagine that hardcore NBA fans have any stomach left for drama.
In his weekly Sunday NBA column, the L.A. Times' Mark Heisler perhaps summed up the collective hyperbole of the sports media world best, listing the four storylines that have been mercilessly beaten into the ground by TV networks, radio talk shows and sports-news websites since the NBA playoffs started in April.
"We used to wait until the season ended to make our stupid global judgments," Heisler lamented. "Now there's a new one every day, across journalism. That's why our political process, as Jon Stewart put it, is "us through a fun house mirror."
Watch any NBA pre-game show or tune into any AM sports talk show this spring and you were bound to hear the age-old "next Michael Jordan" comparisons, with Chicago Bulls' Derrick Rose and Miami's LeBron James endlessly stacked up side-by-side to the Hall of Fame Bulls shooting guard.
There have also been ample comparisons to the legendary Willis Reed, who famously limped the New York Knicks to an improbable upset victory over the L.A. Lakers back in 1971 with a severe leg injury. Last week, Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki's head cold was enough for him to get the "Reed Treatment" at at least a dozen outlets.
Then, of course, there's the NBA's scarlett letter "S" — just as one player is being hailed as heroic or the "chosen one," another is being labled "soft."
This is closely associated with the label "choker," which has been relentlessly assigned to Miami's James over the last week, with the Miami star failing to light up the scoreboard during Dallas' back-to-back home victories.
That drama has actually been building since last summer, when James — on poorly thought-out live ESPN special called "The Decision" — announced he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers through free agency to join to other big-name stars, Chris Bosh and DeWayne Wade, in Miami.
The jilting of the poor Rust Belt-centered Cavaliers in favor of the so-called Super Team — on live TV, no less — villainized James, an affable, easy-going athlete who demonstrably loves his mother, pays his taxes and has no arrest record.
But as the sports-watching public has turned the Dallas Mavericks, at least temporarily, into America's Team — and Nowitzki, who was previously chastised as soft on the blog circuit, into a hero — it has turned the media in force against James and the Heat.
ESPN morning radio-show host Colin Cowherd has been beating the James drum as hard as anyone this week (he supports him!), bating callers to take their best shots
Here's the general theme of questions and assertions:
— "What's wrong with LeBron?"
— "He hasn't been clutch in the fourth quarter. Is he soft?"
— "Michael Jordan never disappeared in the fourth quarter. Conclusion: LeBron is no Michael Jordan."
And, of course, there's the kicker: "It seems like LeBron is playing under a ton of pressure and isn't having any fun."