Commentary

With no NBA games, what else is on TV?

Kim Kardashian's reality shows aren't the only ones looking to salvage their TV product

Originally Published: November 1, 2011
By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

About the only good thing to be said about the canceled start of the NBA season is at least there was enough advance warning for all parties to adjust accordingly, including the DirecTV on-screen program guide that listed "CSI: NY" reruns in the time period Tuesday night that was originally slated for the L.A. Lakers versus the Oklahoma City Thunder on TNT. That's more than can be said for E! Network, whose schedule showed two hours of Tuesday night prime time dedicated to "Kim's Fairytale Wedding: A Kardashian Event."

Oops.

Timing is about the only thing that separates the NBA from the Kardashians at the moment, especially given players' propensity to marry into the family. One group has mocked the institution of marriage (between Khloe getting engaged to Lamar Odom after the approximate span of a 20-second timeout or Kim divorcing Kris Humphries in less time than it takes to play a first-round playoff series), while the NBA and its players have violated the sanctity of the schedule and failed to live up to their side of the covenant: provide games for fans to watch.

I'm fascinated to see how the public responds, particularly given the amount of money squandered in the middle of a bottomed-out economy. Millions wasted on a sham of a marriage. (They couldn't have fixed up a playground for kids or something? They needed that extravagant wedding?) Hundreds of millions evaporated by an inability to close a 2 percent gap in the split of NBA revenue. (They can't just meet at 51 percent for the players and let everyone get back to work?) Will all the people who were foolish enough to invest their time watching the Kim Kardashian nuptials stay away from her future reality shows out of resentment? Will NBA fans come back to the arenas now that the owners and players have made it clear just how lowly the paying customers are regarded?

That last question is part of the morbid curiosity that has added to the strong set of storylines the NBA already had in store. Now, in addition to Dallas' title defense, the start of the Lakers' last run, the next step for Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, and, of course, the Miami Heat, you wonder which teams will be adversely affected by a shortened preseason or who would be hurt most if the schedule is compacted the way it was in 1999, or even how the players bought out with the new amnesty clause will be redistributed around the league.

In a twisted way, the lockout has provided even more reasons to watch once the season does start. But that's the case for only the hard-core fan, the one who still feels deprived over the lack of summer league games streamed online in July.

I wonder what will become of casual fans like my friend Robin, the kind of Miami Heat fan who was mocked because she had never been to a game until LeBron James and Chris Bosh got to town, but those are the exact people the NBA needs if it wants to be a thriving business. She became so caught up in the NBA -- the speed of the sport and the athleticism of the players -- that during the playoffs she would text me to ask who was playing on a given night even if the Heat weren't on. She was hooked. When the schedule slowed down in the conference finals, she was upset on the off days when there was no NBA to watch. If there are too many nights with no NBA to watch, those are the types of fans whose attention will move elsewhere.

The first month matters in the NBA. More than you think. Remember when the 2007-08 Boston Celtics muted all the "Big Three egos won't be able to coexist" talk by winning 13 of their 15 games in their first November together and immediately establishing themselves as legit championship material? And last season showed that the first month of the NBA season -- heck, even the preseason -- can set the tone for interest level, when every Heat game turned into a referendum and the plot was established for a show that resulted in the first double-digit TV ratings for an NBA Finals without the Lakers since 1999.

That's why it feels as though the NBA has dropped the baton. It should have been a smooth exchange from the World Series to basketball in this relay portion of the sports calendar. Not that November hoops can match the compelling theater of October baseball, but it could have provided a softer letdown. Sports fans abhor a vacuum, and that's exactly what the NBA has given us. It's a weeknight, folks in the Northeast are tired of shoveling snow and clearing downed trees and the NBA isn't around to provide a diversion. And now even the diversion to the diversion, reality TV, has been turned into a self-mockery.

My favorite Kardashian-related story was how the E! network executives were caught off-guard, didn't have any cameras ready "to capture the fallout from Kim's divorce filing" and now have to figure out what to do with all of the suddenly outdated footage of the couple that was scheduled to air. They were the ones who enabled this overmarketed event, so they're the ones who should suffer.

But at least they seem desperate to salvage their television product. That's more than you can say about the NBA. It's time for pro basketball, and instead we get crime show dramas.