The West Coast Bias
Whereas coverage of the NBA (and sports in general) was tainted with accusations of an "East Coast Bias" as recently as a decade ago, we have seen a radical shift in emphasis and treatment toward the west. And frankly, I'm getting really tired of this bias in favor of the Western Conference. It's time we give the east some love (and not just in this column).
Ten years ago, when everyone got their news and scores from the newspaper, accounts and descriptions of night games played out west did not make the deadline and missed the next day's edition of east papers. We might not see a Lakers box score for two days. (We didn't know who won Clippers games for, like, a week.)
As a result, proponents of the East Coast Bias theory pointed to more favorable coverage and exposure for East Coast teams in the East because of their proximity to the major media centers (the major urban metropolis that is Bristol, Conn.). Others took it even more seriously, calling it regional ignorance and Northeast elitism. (Can we help that all the Ivy League schools are between Pennsylvania and New Hampshire?)
But with the advent of the 24-hour news cycle and more news and scores obtained on the internet, the bias has shifted back to the West. With games out West ending later, they bump the East games out of the top stories on all of the major web sites.
NBA games in the East start at 7 o'clock or 7:30 p.m., which is so early that I'm not even home yet (I promise I'm really working late and not downloading music illegally from the office). That means NBA fans on the East Coast who get home late or have parental responsibilities (so I hear) have no choice but to watch later Western Conference games to get their hoops fix. By the time I was finished with my nightly chores (Swiffering and ironing my jeans, in case you're curious), I had already missed last night's Knicks-Mavericks and Nets-Nuggets games!
Even the former Boston Sports Guy, ESPN.com's Bill Simmons (and NBA.com's Celebrity Fantasy League defending champion), dropped the "Boston" from his title, moved to L.A. and became a Clippers fan (and the father of a future Los Angeles Sparks fan).
The West Coast Bias is in full effect.
(Not that it's just in hoops... I mean, this Iditarod thing... ever wonder why is it always run in Alaska? That doesn't seem fair. Ever been to northern Maine this time of year? Just as much snow.)
For many beat reporters, talk radio hosts, columnists, journalists, bartenders, cab drivers, parking valets, hot dog vendors, mail carriers, blood bank nurses, junior high guidance counselors, insurance agents, pharmacists, jewelers, hair stylists, landscapers and dental hygienists (you know, the people we interact with on a regular basis), it has become quite fashionable to rag on the Eastern Conference.
And what about the snide remarks and snickering we hear from our doorman, milkman, delivery man, handyman, ice cream man, dishwasher repairman and weatherman around the Playoffs about how the Western Conference Finals is really the NBA Finals?
Everyone wants to harp on the fact that there will be teams with losing records making the playoffs in the East (if form holds). Well you know what? It will probably happen in the West, too (Golden State and the Clippers are fighting for that eighth spot, four and six games below .500 respectively).
How easily do we forget that two of the last three NBA champions came from the East? (At least the original East Coast bias in the '90s actually coincided with the Bulls winning six titles.) Or the fact that eight of the last 10 MVP winners have been from the West (only Allen Iverson in 2001-02 and Michael Jordan in 1997-98 won on behalf of the East over the past decade).
They call it inferior. I call it bias.
This season, a handful of Eastern Conference teams have been playing very well despite no one paying them any attention. The lack of fair (and balanced) media coverage leads to public ignorance and disinterest, only reinforcing the loop (we call that "negative feedback" in science class).
As I was watching the Pistons-Mavericks game on Sunday, I was surprised to learn that Detroit had won five in a row coming into the game (one of three Eastern Conference teams riding an impressive winning streak at the time). In fact, just two nights before, the Pistons knocked off the Suns in Phoenix by 22 points (the Pistons fell in a four-point loss to Dallas without an injured Chauncey Billups). Who knew? Everyone was harping on Kobe Bryant's 65 points on Friday (against last-place Portland).
In other streaks of note, the defending champion Miami Heat put together nine wins in a row up until this weekend and the Cavs fell just short of matching that last night in Charlotte (losing in overtime to the Bobcats). So why aren't they getting more publicity on a national scale? Miami was all but written off after losing 2006 NBA Finals MVP Dwyane Wade to a shoulder injury, but they have been even better without him.
Meanwhile, the Cavs have the most entertaining four athletes on the planet in (The Lebrons) and are just , but Cleveland has as many wins as Detroit (42) in the Eastern Conference standings. Lebron James was absolutely amazing during their eight-game stretch, averaging 32.5 ppg and more than seven rebounds and assists per game. He even finished with 37 points in last night's game, though their loss did force me to delete and re-write most of this section (the lesson, kids, is to always leave your homework to the last minute).
But how can you not love Cleveland (and I'm not just saying this because I will be spending a week there at the end of this month for the WNBA Draft)? And now that Larry Hughes is back in the groove and playing Pippen to his Jordan (five 20-plus ppg games in his last 10), there is no telling how far this team can go come the postseason. And the Cavs are now just starting to get healthy. Their regular lineup of Hughes, Aleksandar Pavlovic, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden and James were 7-0 heading into last night. Including last night, the team is now 18-6 with that starting lineup over the past two seasons.
Yet I probably would not know any of this good stuff about these East beasts if I didn't have NBA TV running on full volume in my office all day long because no one is talking or writing about them anywhere else. (The other great thing about watching NBA TV all day ... my Rick Kamla impression is spot-on.)
Read All About It
As good as Dallas, Phoenix and San Antonio have been this season, fans of the Eastern Conference teams are entitled to watch and read about the teams in our region if we so choose (should have bought League Pass). Instead, we are subjected to more of the same stories about the Mavs and Suns winning again and who deserves to be the MVP.
This past Sunday, I opened up the sports section of my New York Times (or the one I stole from the apartment next door and pretended was mine), leafing past the college hoops coverage for my fix of NBA writing. And what do I find? Lengthy stories on Mavericks forward and MVP candidate Dirk Nowitzki and Warriors center Adonal Foyle as well as a sidebar photo of Suns guard Leandro Barbosa.
I thought this was the NEW YORK Times. Not the Manifest Destiny Gazette or the Westward Ho! Herald. So where is the column that weighs the pros and cons of Knicks' decision to give Isiah Thomas a contract extension? What about extended coverage of the Eddy Curry-Steve Francis spotlight story (which I loved, by the way)? Or even a preview about division foes New York and Toronto going head to head at the Garden that afternoon? And coverage of the Nets (firmly in control of a playoff spot and playing just five minutes away) was nowhere to be found.
This just in... the NBA Playoffs begin in less than a month. Less than a month? Are you serious?
Where are the stories on the playoff races heating up in the east (which are much more exciting than the the west at this point)? The Cleveland-Detroit battle for the top seed will come down to the last week of the season (just you watch) and the all-out battle between the Wizards and Heat in the Southeast division might as well (one of the two might not even get home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs). I'd love to see reactions to the Heat's ridiculous run back into division contention without Wade. What has Shaq been saying? Are the fans totally feeling it? Are the people of South Florida into it again (after all, I can't rely on my grandparents to relay the latest news since all of our correspondences are in birthday cards)?
And what about sparking an MVP debate that includes more than just two candidates. Let's throw Lebron James and Chris Bosh squarely into the mix (both of whom have done amazing things with a weaker supporting cast and are WAY more valuable to their teams)? Why is it a foregone conclusion that we (read: D.J.S.) are just handing the trophy to either Nowitzki or Nash? Where would Cleveland be without Lebron this season? And the Raptors without Bosh's 23 and 10 (punching their lottery tickets is where)?
Speaking of the Raptors (my new favorite team to watch, by the way), this team is not getting even close to enough attention for the season they are having. This is national news, people. So how about feature on Coach of the Year candidate (and frontrunner) Sam Mitchell? Maybe a look back at the impact of the offseason T.J. Ford-Charlie Villanueva trade? I'd even settle for a story about where Brian Colangelo eats lunch when scouting in Reykjavik. (I've heard great things about the smoked lamb and sheep's head at Fljott og Gott.) That's what I want to be reading!
What The Future Holds
Sure, the best of the west have been impressive so far this regular season. I'm not trying to rain on the Suns' or Mavericks' superb seasons (to date). But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves here. This is still just the regular season. The fact remains that no one remembers anything but who wins the NBA championship anyway. (Do you remember that Miami finished second in the East last season behind Detroit while Dallas was the No. 4 seed behind San Antonio, Phoenix and Denver? I didn't.)
Five years from now, are you really going to look back on the parity in the East standings in 2006-07 or the dominance that the West showed over the East in the regular season? Of course not. History remembers champions and we will only remember the Dallas Mavericks' or the Phoenix Suns' strong regular season if they can win the title (and by my math, only one team can win). And there is certainly no guarantee that they will.
Despite what you may be led to believe, there will be an Eastern Conference representative in the Finals again this year. And would anyone really be shocked to see the Pistons win it again (Hello, Big Beaver Road...)? Or a patched-up D-Wade lead a Heat repeat (covered in Shaq's IcyHot patches)? Or Lebron taking the next step in his career (a feature film starring The Lebrons)?
In fact, I'll be rooting for them. This postseason, I will be ignoring the NBA employee, league-mandated impartiality doctrine (one of the lessons we learn at new employee orientation) to announce that I'll be pulling for the East in this year's NBA Playoffs (quietly clapping underneath the draped scorer's table).
Of course, I am biased.