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Last night the Meadowlands hosted just about as exciting a game as you could possibly imagine. Two teams fighting each other for their playoff lives, ending in a marvelous, contested, half-court, buzzer-beating game-winner.
If there is a reason to have a basketball team in New Jersey, this moment is it.
I don't live too far from East Rutherford, where the Nets play, so it's not surprising that a couple of years ago my local newspaper -- The New York Times -- would have honored such an achievement with a massive picture of Devin Harris's shining moment on the cover of the sports section. (The Times, for instance, has a regional section called "New Jersey" on the weekends. This is a market they cater to, in other words.)
But today? Well, first of all, there no longer is a cover of the sports section. To save money, sports have been relegated to the non-business end of the business pages.
And on top of that? There is nobody from the Times covering the Nets. So the sports story of the day, in the version that landed on my doorstep, is about three paragraphs of AP copy a dozen or so pages into the last section in the paper. (There's a slightly longer version of the story online.) I opened the paper looking for the story of that shot, and rifled through the pages without seeing anything at all. The story was so tiny -- merely a part of the roundup of non-local games -- that it was easy to miss.
Hard to get excited about it like that! I think about growing up, and getting the newspaper in the morning. I'd read all the Blazer news in the Oregonian, and have the feeling that I was one of hundreds of thousands living and dying together with the fortunes of the Blazers. On a day a meaningful game ended like this, the paper of my youth would have had team coverage.
And maybe there's nothing to this. Maybe all this means is that if you're a kid hooked on the Nets you bug your parents to get the Newark Star-Ledger (or to read ESPN.com) instead. I don't know who's to blame for this exactly. There are those who say it's us internet people (the blogs! always blame the blogs!), or the cost of paper, the availablility of faster delivery channels, the changing expectations of readers ...
But I'll tell you this -- as much as I see the sports media as a way to relay the exciting things that happen in sports, I know teams see the sports media as a way to create the hype, awareness, and narrative that make sports exciting and profitable.
There's a chicken and egg thing that happens. And last night, Devin Harris was certainly no chicken -- but the newspaper laid an egg.
The result: A great moment of sports inspires fewer people than it might.
I'm readier than ever to believe Mark Cuban when he says that pro sports teams need the newspaper business.