In ’98-’99 – the last time the National Basketball Association faced a lockout – the resulting shortened 50-game season led to a several-year ratings slump. Basketball experts were expecting a similar situation when this year’s season finally began on Christmas Day after another protracted labor dispute. But instead, the popularity of professional basketball is up significantly in the current compressed 66-game season, which is already nearly halfway to the playoffs.
Hoops pundits have noted that stats are down - with loose cannon commentator Charles Barkley going so far as to say that the league should apologize for lackluster action on the court. But the ratings don’t lie; pro basketball viewership is up between 12 and 66 percent depending on the network. It seems that more games plus a shorter season equals happy fans and increased revenues in 2012. But it’s not all highlights on the hardwood – another result is a grueling schedule that finds elite athletes pushing their bodies harder… and a season that may favor younger teams with ample numbers of youthful players while teams built on older and more experienced players face injuries and losses. Certainly, the prospects for L.A.’s other white-hot basketball team, The Clippers, are looking uncertain after their veteran guard Chauncey Billups went down with a season-ending torn Achilles tendon on Monday night.
Is a shorter but more physically taxing NBA season worth the bump in ratings? How can athletes compete at this strenuous level? Which team will best manage the onslaught and bring home a championship in June?
Chris Mannix, staff writer for Sports Illustrated & SI.com