Questioning Whether Frank Deford Even Watches The NBA Any More.

I get no particular joy of taking potshots at SI scribe Frank Deford. I’ve read plenty of the man’s work before and enjoyed it, and I’ve caught his commentaries on sports on NPR without fail. But he has his biases, and I wonder if he’s watched a game since the late 1980s if his latest viewpoint column on SI’s web site on the NBA is any indication.

So now, February, after the Super Bowl, is the only time the NBA can take a bite out of the calendar. Only February is still midseason, and no sport can make a splash with its midseason. The NBA does have its All-Star Game, which will be played Feb. 17 (the same day as the Daytona 500), but that just creates another problem, because the All-Star Game features individuals, and the NBA suffers generally that its stars overshadow their teams. In an odd way, the NBA All-Star Game hurts the league.

In this young century, San Antonio has been every bit as dominant as, say, the Patriots have been in the NFL, but the Spurs have little national following. Instead, the NBA glamour-pusses are the individuals who are known by their first names, not unlike Britney and Oprah and Hillary: Kobe and LeBron and Shaq. Year in and year out, the Spurs’ great star, Tim Duncan, is the most important player in the league, but he lacks pizzazz — he’s merely excellent — and so, like his team, he’s relatively unknown to the general public — the people who lift a sport out of ESPN range and into dual-gender cocktail conversation.

The Spurs probably have little national following because they are located in a smaller city in Texas with no other professional sports. That has something to do with it. The stars that cross over have a lot to do with being in major national markets — Kobe in L.A., Shaq going from L.A. to Miami and now Phoenix, LeBron’s Cleveland may not be as big as the others, but he has the greater Midwest as a platform.

I just wonder what game Deford used to watch that doesn’t give him the “team” concept. We can talk about Kobe, LeBron, and Shaq until we’re blue in the face, but unless the parts around them are working with the stars, those stars don’t reach the pinnacle. It’s part and parcel as to why recent Laker teams have been bounced out of the playoffs early and why LeBron’s Cavs got swept in the Finals.

The Spurs have three guys with the potential to be major stars, but Duncan is a retiring sort, while Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are foreigners (and Parker’s overshadowed by his TV star wife.)   I view the NBA as the sport where individual feats and team consistency shine on equal merits; when you have only five on a court per team at any given time, the dynamic has to come into play — the balance between individual excellence and top-notch team play. It’s why so many of us watch regular-season games (and yes, the All-Star Game)  even though the real race starts around March or April, when the playoffs get close.

If Deford thinks this is somehow a problem, then it’s been a problem since Magic, Larry Legend, and MJ brought the game to a larger consciousness among sports fans, and without those individuals and the teams they played with, the NBA would barely be a blip on anyone’s radar, let alone the behemoth it is and the global game it is developing into.

4 Responses

  1. Tony Parker is a huge star in France, FWIW. Like “releasing a rap video and making money off it only because he’s famous” star.

  2. I’m one of the people under 30 who wonders just why Frank Deford is so respected. Evidently he used to be good. I can pinpoint the moment I realized that he had no real original thought in his writing. It was when he spoke the following on an NPR essay: “Of course, a few young knuckleheads even wear baseball caps sort of sideways. Whatever.” This was just a couple years ago. In the mid ’00s, a sportswriter was commenting that some people wear hats backward or sideways. And all he could say about it was “Whatever.” And I thought, THIS is a sportswriting legend?

  3. Having given up on the smug, fat white guys at SI eons ago, I get all I can stomach of the sage Deford on NPR Wednesday mornings, when he pontificates from his fantasy world in Connecticut. How about we call it a day, Frank, nobody likes to listen to you talk as much as you do.

  4. I think that Frank Deford is STUPID because he thinks that baseball is the greatest thing to ever happen to man.

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