Kovacevic: Why Pittsburghers reject the NBA
By Dejan Kovacevic
Published: Friday, June 1, 2012, 12:26 a.m.
Updated: Friday, June 1, 2012
I'm getting word daily now from a couple of people — and no more — that there's this wonderful NBA playoff taking place. They gush about the Heat, Celtics, Spurs and some Oklahoma City franchise like they're Spike Lee in the front row. They tell tales of big upsets, buzzer-beaters, the whole deal.
Haven't seen a solitary minute.
This has zilch to do with basketball. I thoroughly enjoy most every other form, from high school gyms to big-time colleges to Suzie McConnell-Serio's surging women at Duquesne to McKeesport's Swin Cash going for Olympic gold. As the old ad used to go, I love this game.
I just tune out the NBA. Which is to say, I'm a born and bred Pittsburgher.
So is Bob Miller, owner of Sidelines Bar and Grill in Millvale, and he's got the scars to prove it.
Two months ago, a local radio station approached Miller with an idea to convert Sidelines — just for a night — into a Clippers bar. The business would get a boost, and the station could have a little fun.
Miller was cool with it but, just to be sure, he sent an email blast to the 1,200 customers on his “Beer Club” list to get their thoughts.
More than 100 replies torched his inbox.
“If you show the NBA, I'll stop coming there forever!” one read.
Others were less civil, including at least hints of racism. Miller recalled one worrying the NBA would attract “the wrong crowd.”
Alas, Millvale never became L.A. East.
On Wednesday night at Sidelines, the 10 mounted TVs were broken down thusly: Five were on Root Sports' Pirates-Reds game (with sound), four on NBC's Kings-Devils Stanley Cup Final matchup, and just one — back in the corner — on ESPN's Heat-Celtics NBA semifinal.
Sounds about right.
The overnight Nielsen ratings in Pittsburgh for those broadcasts: Pirates (6.6), Stanley Cup (3.4) and NBA (3.1). That's not a huge gap in the last two, but the NBA had its main attraction, LeBron James, on the marquee. The previous night, the Spurs and Oklahoma City drew a more typical 2.6.
The Penguins aren't in this equation, but they've boasted some breathtaking numbers in recent years: Their average 8.03 rating on Root Sports this season not only was best in the NHL but also better than any NBA team .
That's unheard of.
“Nobody fills my place like the Penguins, not even the Steelers, maybe because we get a younger crowd,” Miller said. “I'll have people come as early as 5 for a 7 o'clock faceoff just to make sure they have a seat. And I'm talking regular season.”
Yes, the NBA kills the NHL in national ratings, often 3 to 1. Even in Los Angeles on Wednesday, with the Kings vying for a first Cup, Heat-Celtics won the night, 6.1 to 4.2.
Yes, the NBA is blessed with such star power that Sidney Crosby couldn't touch the third -most famous player on one NBA team's roster. (For real. It's Chris Bosh of the Heat.)
And yes, the NBA benefits from the cheerleading of TV rights-holder ESPN and the rest of the national media, most of which is run by folks too ingrained to look into a) why the NHL outdraws the NBA at the gate and b) why eight markets with teams in both leagues, including Philadelphia and Chicago, now get better local ratings for hockey.
But us, we're the total oddballs. We enjoy hoops. We play hoops, including at the highest level. But we never wanted an NBA franchise, and you can bet your Zydrunas Ilgauskas rookie card we'll never have one.
Maybe we're tapped out. Pittsburgh is the smallest U.S. market with as many as three major league franchises. And we do just fine. We sell out every game for two teams, and we support the other way more than most cities would amid a 19-year losing streak.
Or maybe it's inherited. All eight attempts at professional basketball in this town were epic failures. Even the Pittsburgh Pipers, who claimed the American Basketball Association crown in 1968, averaged fewer than 1,000 fans at Civic Arena and bolted for Minnesota the next season.
We're no closer now. No one has publicly expressed interest in bringing an NBA team here since 2000. (It was wholly ignored.) And not a single suitor has seriously approached the Penguins about sharing their home — which would be a must in our city — since Consol Energy Center opened.
That last nugget never had been reported. I'll presume it's because no one cared enough to ask.
Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Oops...major typo on last comment. DJ, I meant I couldn't agree MORE with all your comments except one.... One more side note....Dejan, you are a great reporter and writer. Very objective and informative. This article is by far your worst. Just because YOU don't like the NBA doesn't mean the rest of Pittsburgh doesn't like the NBA. I hope you don't lose readers based on this one piece of writing. You're much better than this. I won't be back for a while.
Submitted by: Mathew on Friday, June 1, 2012
DJ, I was born and bred in Pittsburgh but have only been gone for a little over 10 years. I couldn't agree with all of your comments except one...I don't believe the NBA could ever last in Pittsburgh. Outside of Boston, Pittsburgh is the most racist city I have ever lived or visited. But at least Boston isn't as old. I'm sure there will be a lot of backlash toward your comments...and that will only help your arguement. As a side not...Dejan is a very good reporter. He's just a little "Pittsburgh" on this topic.
Submitted by: DJ on Friday, June 1, 2012
DK, I don't know where you're from. You may be born and bred in Pittsburgh, but your commentary is one of the most stupid that I have ever read and Triblive and their editors needs a check up for allowing you the forum to write such garbage. I was born in Pittsburgh, lived there for 20 years and I've been gone for 22 years. In that time, I have lived in multi-sport cities and with the exception of our Steelers, sports in Pittsburgh is on the bottom when it comes to recognition and respect. The Penguins did their thing in the 90's, and you can't deny that but even then they didn't garner any national recognition. Why, because Hockey sucks! Nobody really cares about that sport and as you mentioned, it will never grow beyond where it is now. The Pirates can't fill the lower level seats at PNC Park, even while giving away free tickets. I remember when Mark Cuban (Owner of the Dallas Mavericks) made a pitch at buying the team, and he was snubbed by the "Old" money that continues to have a stranglehold on the sports face of the city. Pittsburghers live and die in those neighborhood taverns and bars, watching the same boring team lose year after year. I can't even find a decent "Modern" sports bar when I come home. An NBA team would bring a new market and a more modern atmosphere to an otherwise "old" situation. If you build it, the people will come. I'll bet $10 to every $1 that an NBA team will generate more revenue for the city than the Pirates, and in due time, a better product! I'm just sayin'!
Submitted by: Paul on Friday, June 1, 2012
I believe that basketball in Pittsburgh in general lags behind in fan interest behind football and hockey. I grew up in New Castle, Pa and while we played casual games in every major sport in the season (football, baseball, basketball - no one could skate in our neighborhood, so we didn't play hockey), we played basketball all year. I enjoy basketball much more than hockey, less equipment is needed, and it is a less expensive game to play. However, my wife has no interest in b-ball, being from Pittsburgh and all...
Submitted by: Gregory on Friday, June 1, 2012
The "basketball" that is played at the upper levels of the sport favors style over substance and individualization over team cohesion. That simply isn't Pittsburgh. While Pittsburgh sports fans can talk about and appreciate the style and grace of players such as Lemieux, Clemente and Swann I would think you'd hear just as much an argument as to who was the best center ever for the Steelers or hear the pride that Maz is teaching Walker to turn a DP or hear the support of why cut-out Orpik would be a captain on half of NHL teams. The highlights of an NBA game are dunks and blocks - where's the passing and team defense? I got it: you're tall and can jump. Substance and community and commitment are traits the think Pittsburghers value; that is not part of the NBA culture.
Submitted by: Dan on Friday, June 1, 2012
Dejan - Since you bring up racism as a possible cause of disinterest in the NBA, might I suggest instead the thug culture that infests the league, regardless of race? Maybe the preening, the vulgarity, the "child in every city" is what makes it difficult for many of us to identify with and root for.
Submitted by: Adam on Friday, June 1, 2012
Dejan, the article is entitled "Why Pittsburghers Reject the NBA," but it doesn't actually answer the question. I am genuinely interested in learning why Burghers dislike the NBA, and when I saw you teasing the column yesterday, I was looking forward to gaining an understanding. Unfortunately, from reading the article, the only reasons I can glean are "thinly veiled racism" or "they never have liked it," neither of which I would expect to be your real answers. The column does a great job with the "what" and maybe even the "how," but is lacking in terms of the "why."
Submitted by: Matt on Friday, June 1, 2012
DK - Wow, this isn't your style, buddy! I don't think I've ever read one of your columns that I didn't think was enlightening in at least some way (usually in multiple ways). But this one? We get it, you don't like the NBA, and you obsess about a sport that on a national scale, is virtually as talked about as soccer, pingpong, FrisbeeGolf and all the other niche sports. But who really cares, to each his own. In this piece, you kinda come across as that whiney, elitist kid who just cant grasp why all his buddies wanna go hang at the beach rather than go skiing at some expensive resort. And I love how you made it even more clear that the NHL will never catch the NBA in popularity, if even in a hockey-obsessed, non-NBA-franchise city, the TV ratings were virtually identical. Ouch. Sorry bout that bro. Had to hurt, at least a lil' bit. And really, you or your editors didnt even consider removing the useless-to-the-story racist piece? For real? Never crossed your mind to just delete that part? Are you kidding me? What value does it have to "subtly" point out that some hockey fans are racist? You don't think people kinda already knew that anyway (sorry, stooping to your condescending level, I withdrawl the previous comment). You get a do-over though, DK. You are my favorite columnist - and were my all-time favorite beat writer. We all swing-and-miss occassionally. Granted, this one was a Brian Bixler-kinda swing and miss, but it's all good.
Submitted by: Gene on Friday, June 1, 2012
Here's another reason: High School and College basketball are sports. The NBA is a carnival. It kills me when ESPN has a dunk as one of their top ten, for goodness sakes they can do that in High School!
Submitted by: Art on Friday, June 1, 2012
I'm puzzled, what's an NBA????
Submitted by: Perry on Friday, June 1, 2012
Not only do they not watch the NBA, Pittsburghers love to tell we NBA fans how much they hate it. The media especially, from the big blowhard on 105.9 to gentlemanly Stan Savran, and even the esteemed columnist at the top of the page. I was born in Illinois, but consider myself bred in Pittsburgh as I have spent 35 of my 48 years here. I coach high school basketball and teach at an urban charter school. My players and my students love talking NBA, though, my students would have a hard time distinguishing between Sidney Crosby and Dejan Kovacevic. I DVR the best show on television, Inside the NBA, and check Grantland.com and ESPN TrueHoops blog daily, so I get my fix. My wife, born and bred Pittsburgher, loves KG and the Celtics. So the NBA fans are out there, we just don't have an outlet to be heard, save for Paul Zeise's show on 93.7. And John Harris' column in your paper. I have not seen a regular season hockey game in years, though it is more because I am watching game tape or scouting an opponent, I don't feel the need to tell people how much I don't watch a sport. Looking forward to a great weekend of hoops, Celts/Heat tonight, hopefully Celtics hold serve at home, and rejuvenate Thunder hosting the Spurs tomorrow. Perry Harrop
Submitted by: rick on Friday, June 1, 2012
DK- Count me among those not interested in the NBA, however the racial hints disturb me.......they do not surprise me but disurbing none the less. Good article