Starkey: No apologies for this NBA column
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I feel like I should apologize here, before the second sentence.
But I won't.
I am not sorry, not one bit, for writing about the NBA in a city that allegedly hates the NBA because Pittsburgh doesn't hate the NBA. It's a myth.
We have, in fact, become riveted to a one-of-a-kind finals that will culminate in Game 7 on Thursday in Miami (the only people who don't seem riveted are those who paid for tickets to Game 6 and bolted early, but that's a column for another city).
Pittsburgh hates the NBA? Consider that the finals usually draws good TV ratings in these parts, then look at the overnight Nielsen ratings from Heat-Spurs Game 6 on Tuesday night.
The local rating was a 6.6, which translates to approximately 200,000 people. The game peaked after midnight with a 9.1, or approximately 275,000 people.
So, yes, besides those 275,000 living, breathing mammals, I guess nobody around here cares about the NBA.
For perspective, Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night drew a 2.2 local rating. Granted, it was on cable — that's the NHL's problem — but you get the picture.
Tuesday night's Pirates game attracted a solid 8 local rating, peaking at 10.2. Sure, this is Game 6 of the NBA Finals compared to a regular-season Pirates game on cable — and the Pirates are getting terrific ratings — but it's notable that more people were up past midnight watching the NBA than, on average, watched a big build-up Pirates game.
Would that happen in a town that hates the NBA?
For all its flaws, the NBA deserves credit for making its product casual-fan friendly. It's a league that caters to stars, creating an environment in which they can thrive.
The NHL, on the other hand, caters to muckers and grinders and goalies with microscopic goals-against averages.
The stars get away with things in the NBA.
The hacks get away with things in the NHL.
Truthfully, though, I don't care who's watching. I'd be way into this even if nobody else was.
It's not just that six potential Hall of Famers are sometimes on the floor at once. It's not just the presence of the miraculous Tim Duncan, a 37-year-old who rang up 25 first-half points in Game 6. It's not even the presence of this generation's Michael Jordan, LeBron James, who has been nothing short of sublime.
It's the manner in which these teams are competing. No preening, no taunting, no obnoxiousness.
It's a series devoid of jerks.
It's proof that sports can be played at a ferociously competitive level without lethal doses of look-at-me obnoxiousness.
The Spurs' Big Three — Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili — exude nothing but desire, grace and style.
The Heat aren't so different, just with a bit more of a youthful edge. LeBron was understandably ripped for the way he left Cleveland but has restored his image and then some. He's one of more likeable athletes in America, thanks to his inclusive manner with fans and obvious joy for the game.
Did you see James thank Doris Burke after their postgame interview the other night? Often, athletes don't even look their interviewer in the eyes anymore. It's a massive inconvenience, you know, this 30-second interview. The athlete stares off into the distance, gives a few rote answers and walks away.
Miami's Ray Allen is another classy guy. I remember interviewing him in a locker room in Cleveland when he played for Seattle. He put down his book, exchanged a normal human greeting, then participated thoughtfully in a decent conversation.
I compare that to some of the interactions I have these days, and I laugh.
These are all guys you can root for. I don't know if we'll ever see another series like it, a cast of such memorable characters competing so fiercely and so humbly.
So watch. You'll have plenty of company — even in Pittsburgh — and you'll be talking about it the next day.
No apologies necessary.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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