The sports calendar is consumed by the NFL. The league’s games, of course, September into the first Sunday of February, dominate all comers, even the World Series and college football bowl games. Training camp has August all to itself. The May draft overshadows the first 2-3 weeks of the NBA playoffs.
Maybe the only NFL enterprise that hasn’t risen to the top is its free agency period, in March, when the NCAA Tournament still reigns. And give pro football time. It takes aim on anything standing in its way.
But the NBA has pulled a page from its football brethren. In recent years, the NBA’s July free agency period has propelled pro basketball to the No. 1 story in the sports news cycle.
It helps, of course, to have a LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony dangling out there, free to sign with any team. But as the nature of contracts changes — the early-termination clauses are becoming more and more prevalent — superstars in free agency are going to be an annual rite.
And the NBA, which on a national basis plays even its games in relative anonymity the first two months of the season, builds its brand deeper and deeper into the American sports psyche. Seems to me this is what baseball did back in the early days of free agency, when the winter meetings would produce gigantic news of Reggie Jackson or Andre Dawson switching teams, or Whitey Herzog trading for Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter in the same week.
The pursuits of LeBron and Carmelo, the fates of Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, the destiny of Kevin Love, they’ve all transfixed the American sports fan the last couple of weeks. Chandler Parsons has gotten much more acclaim as the object of a Dallas-Houston love triangle than he ever did as a solid small forward.
And such soap opera is good for the league. The NBA Draft, frankly, has not become a major news event outside the hard-core followers of the league. Too many one-and-dones, college stars who didn’t stick around a campus long enough to build much of a brand. Too many international players. Too many Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks picks early. But free agency a week later has commandeered the spotlight.
“I support a player’s right to become a free agent,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Tuesday in Las Vegas, when asked about the free agent frenzy. “From a macro standpoint, I think all the movement was very positive for the league. The coverage has been fantastic.”
By August, the hype will have subsided and the NBA will go into siesta. But the NBA has at least found an off-season niche to put its league into the spotlight.