HOUSTON (CBS Houston) — When NBA commissioner David Stern looks out at his league, he sees some of the same problems many of us see in this hastened lockout-shortened season.
Nearly two months into the NBA season, the product on the floor has been sub par. The inconsistencies from top teams like the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers, have been hard to overlook.
But while we are caught up in the disappointing product on the court, Stern is measuring the success of his league with a different stick.
The metrics the Commish is most interested in have to do with television viewership, arena attendance and merchandise revenue. Right now attendance and television viewership are through the roof while merchandise sales are holding strong which tells Stern the NBA product is better than ever.
So any discussion about how the on-court product is suffering due to a lack of training camps, too few preseason games and little practice time to correct flaws because of compacted schedule falls on deaf ears.
“I would say No.1 we are delighted to have a season,” he said. “It was really somehow to be able to start by Christmas Day enabled us to get a deal with our players and for the players to get a deal with us. It allowed for 80 percent of the season to be played in 75 percent of the time. It’s really been great.”
In Sterns mind that has everything to do with the metrics. And they are mind-boggling on the heels of what was a stellar 2010-11 campaign.
Viewership of NBA games on ESPN is up 23 percent, 50 percent on TNT and 66 percent on NBA TV this season. Then the arenas are filling up, though that may not be all that obviously here locally where attendance has been sporadic for Houston Rockets games at Toyota Center.
But that is apparently not the case for many of the other NBA cities. According to Marginal Revolution, through the first 325 games this season, the average attendance is 17,094. That works out to better than 89 percent capacity.
Consider that last year when there was no lockout and labor issue and the league was having a banner year that the average attendance through the first 325 games was 17.057.
“The way we judge it in large measure is in the way we get rated,” Stern said this week when in town for the announcement of the 2013 NBA All-Star Game being awarded to Houston. “We have attendance, we have ratings and we have merchandise sales. I would say attendance is as good as it was last year and that was a great year, television ratings are up dramatically and merchandise sales are very very strong.
“If you are a fan boy there are a lot of good games on every night.”
Stern simply doesn’t see what we see and he doesn’t have to. But there is a lot of mediocre basketball being played this season. The elite teams should be separating themselves at this point, but right now we don’t know which team is the clear cut favorite to win the NBA championship.
The Miami Heat and the second year of the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh seem to be the best team. But they’ve been up and down with as the stars adjust to some new role players and right now trail Chicago for the best record.
The Western Division has been even harder to figure out. The thought was the Dallas Mavericks would be a strong contender to defend their NBA title but superstar Dirk Nowitzki has struggled and the team is finding out Tyson Chandler meant more to last year’s run than he was given credit for.
That has left the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder to rule the West. The Clippers, who added point guard Chris Paul to the mix this season with high-flying Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and for the first time in forever they are the bigger story than other team in LA. But the Clippers 5-5 road record makes it hard to buy too deeply them being a real contender.
What has all equated to is a lot poorly played games that seem to be a direct result of hastily thrown together season that does not allow for a lot practice time to improve.
But don’t expect Stern to acknowledge of that.
“I think if you are a basketball fan …,” he said. “I know I’m watching lots of basketball and I’m watching all of the sensations.”
All Stern sees are the superlatives that have mostly to do with the metrics. Without the ability to borrow his glasses we are left to deal with the reality and hope it gets better as the season progresses.