It’s not often that the NBA has a chance to “one-up” the NFL, but that’s exactly what’s going on this basketball postseason. With the NFL Draft just a week away, the aura around this time of the year usually swirls all around the incoming football crop. But with the NFL currently under a lockout and the prima donnas and billionaires of the league clamoring for more cash, a cast of superstars has tilted all eyes on the NBA.

Even if you prefer a helmet over the hardwood, it’s hard to not to be star struck by basketball’s new branded boys: Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard and Russell Westbrook. Add that crop to the usual cast of premier characters in LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Dwyane Wade, along with the usual star teams in Boston and San Antonio, and what do you have? You have perhaps the most intriguing mix of superstars and teams that the NBA and its fans have seen in decades.

The first weekend of the 2011 playoffs was nothing short of phenomenal. Comebacks, upsets, questionable calls, superstar performances—you honestly can’t squeeze anymore out of a postseason than what we saw in the first two days. Thanks to the revival of classic NBA teams and cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Boston, the NBA may finally out of the shadow of Michael Jordan. But, another case of money mishaps could cause it to revert back to the basics.

Basketball’s nearing a fork in the road right now. In one direction you have a bright future laced with some incredibly humble and incredibly talented stars. In the other direction there’s a pending lockout that threatens to wipe away all the work that the NBA has put in to become arguably the second most popular sport behind football. The excitement over this season’s playoffs is unreal and it would only benefit the league to keep the momentum going into next season.

But what if there is no next season? The last time the NBA endured a lockout was the 1999 season where a shortened 50-game season and a Spurs title just didn’t seem or feel quite right. Basketball was just one season removed from Jordan retiring and the lockout helped lure the casual NBA fan right into the waiting arms of the NFL.

Now, with both the NFL and the NBA facing potential time off next season, this is the time for NBA Commissioner David Stern to push his product out in front. Instead, a league brimming with marketable talent and renewed interest is about to drop the ball. It’s too bad that a conflict over coin won’t allow the NBA to capitalize on the opportunity.

 

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO