Posted: Wednesday May 23, 2012 1:19PM ; Updated: Wednesday May 23, 2012 1:19PM
Frank Deford
Frank Deford>VIEWPOINT

Will lack of national discussion cause NBA, NHL playoffs to suffer?

Story Highlights

Spurs' Tim Duncan does not have the same celebrity status as other NBA stars

ESPN chooses to not carry the NHL because it's not in the "national discussion"

Lack of national attention to Tim Duncan and hockey may hurt NBA, NHL playoffs

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Tim Duncan
San Antonio Spurs' Tim Duncan doesn't have the same celebrity status as other basketball players like LeBron and Kobe.
Kirby Lee/US PRESSWIRE

It's the climax of the hockey and basketball seasons, but both have potential playoff visibility problems. Let me explain.

The NBA first -- as you know, basketball is the most individualized, celebrity-ized team game. Like movie stars, the best players are known by their first names: LeBron ... Kobe ... Dirk. Every basketball superstar wants to take his talents to a hot-dog, big-time market. Or at least marry a Kardashian.

So, for goodness sakes, why is San Antonio once again the best team, and what is the matter with the Spurs' perennial star, Tim Duncan? Who? Tim Duncan is not only not known just as Tim, he is not even known as Duncan. In fact, he is always called "Tim Duncan," to make sure we remember who he is.

Tim Duncan just doesn't get it. He is happy playing down there in San Antonio. He never tries to get his coach fired. He even likes his coach, Gregg Popovich, who everybody just calls "Pop." Pop doesn't get it either. He's been quietly coaching the Spurs since 1996, and even though he is coach of the year again, he doesn't think he is either a genius or a guru. Tim Duncan has himself been hiding in San Antonio since 1997, after he graduated from college with honors. He is so weird he never gets in the columns.

So it's really not even going to seem like the NBA if Tim Duncan and Pop lead San Antonio back to the championship. Of course, outside of the Greater Alamo area maybe nobody will even notice.

Now, that's the exact problem the whole, entire, complete National Hockey League has. This is because what we used to call "the sports world" is actually now "ESPN-world." And of all the major leagues, ESPN doesn't carry the NHL. As a consequence, the NHL is like a tree falling in the forest, because pretty much if a sport isn't on ESPN then it doesn't count as a sport. Poker became a sport when ESPN started showing it.

Angry hockey people even tabulate the few minutes ESPN deigns to mention the NHL. ESPN replies that hockey is not in the "national discussion." The NHL is just not like LeBron or Kobe or baby bumps or Mitt Romney's dog. In fact, to ESPN the NHL is rather like ... Tim Duncan. Hockey fans say that the NHL can't be in the national discussion unless ESPN discusses it, because in American sports today, that's how you get national. You get on ESPN. Look at it this way: ESPN to sports is like Fox, MSNBC, the Comedy Channel and MTV all in one.

ESPN might have a problem, though. The New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings may very well end up playing in the NHL finals. Is even ESPN bigger than LA and New York, together? Stay tuned.

 
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