Hockey or hoops?

I don’t know about you, but I miss the good old days. The days when I was young enough to sit and watch sports from the time I got home from school until after the time I got into bed. Or even my college days, where class was optional and pizza was plentiful. He went back and forth from one game to another, and maybe a third if possible. And this was always the time of year he loved the most. The Stanley Cup playoffs or the NBA playoffs alone may not be the biggest sporting event. Surely March Madness would have something to say in that argument. But put them together and you could have a good couple of months. Unfortunately, my college days are behind me, and with that comes the cruel fate of waking up at 6:30 every morning to join the rest of the working world. Let’s just say that games that last until 1 in the morning and sleep buffs don’t usually mix very well. In any case, I can’t seem to find the time to watch all the sports I used to watch. So the question is what to choose? Let’s examine why the postseason, if any, is really worth sacrificing sleep for.

The competition. I guess this would depend on your definition of good competition. In the NHL you have the balance from top to bottom. Currently, the top two seeds in hockey have left before the conference finals, with the top 4 seeds in the West bowing out in the first round. On the other hand, the NBA seems to have more weight at the top, which could be argued that this makes the competition better in the later rounds. I’d give hockey a thumbs up here. I realize there are a lot of people who just don’t understand hockey and find it unwatchable. But for those of you who appreciate the incredible level of skill it requires, you’ll notice that hockey, more than any other sport, is played at the highest level during the postseason. While the Oiler’s win over the Red Wings in the first round may not be the best in terms of enticing fans to keep tuning in, it shows me that the league is ultra-competitive from top to bottom. Put one down for hockey.

The stars. This category may seem obvious to many, but not to me. From name recognition alone, most Americans would say that basketball has the biggest stars hands down. That may be true, but it seems the only reason we’ve heard of half of their names is because we can easily find them on a police blotter. When it comes to promoting star players, no one puts more emphasis on it than the NBA. But personally I prefer to be known by few than hated by many. Still, to be fair, I have to give this to the players, though one could argue that since Jordan was gone for good, Mario Lemieux’s name was the biggest in either sport until he retired earlier in year.

The action. For me it’s not even close. While basketball may have that one spectacular play-per-game that makes you jump out of your seat and scream, hockey is a constant barrage of high-intensity action, hard hitting, amazing display of skill, and even the occasional brawl. Just ask Rasheed Wallace, who apparently feels his team can play hard when he feels like it and advance to the finals. Try that in hockey, and you’ll probably end up getting hit through a piece of plexiglass. Not to mention that a loss of focus, while perhaps resulting in poor defense in the NBA, can result in something more dangerous in hockey, like a puck to the face. Hockey takes it safe.

Convenience. Sometimes you just want to get straight to the point and not bother sitting through two and a half hours of a game before the outcome is actually determined. This is where basketball definitely has hockey rhythm. There is nothing worse, especially for the casual hockey fan (although some would say there is no such thing), than sitting down to watch an entire hockey game with clicker in hand, while quickly flipping the channel to check the outcome of another match, lose a goal! On the other hand, if you watch most of an NBA game, you will likely be witnessing most of the scoring since it is consistent throughout the game. Where the real convenience lies in basketball is that everyone knows you really only need to tune in to the fourth quarter, if not just the last 5 minutes of an NBA game to see the best part. If you were to try that in hockey you would most likely be out of luck and sometimes even a 1 goal game is already over for all intents and purposes. You might get lucky and come across a game that ends in overtime from time to time, but usually you’ll find that the game is pretty much decided. So if you’re looking to save time and tune in to the crucial moment, the NBA is the game for you.

Over time. Speaking of overtime, two words: Sudden Death. While a basketball game that goes into overtime can end in a 12-point landslide victory, playoff hockey games in overtime always deliver the drama they deserve. No time limit, first goal wins. It doesn’t get any better than that, okay?

Schedule. This is a category in which the NBA drives me crazy. What used to be a real selling point for me in the past has become another annoying byproduct of the NBA front office. I get that your main goal is to generate revenue, but do you really need to only play 2 games a night and spread the first round games over a two week period, if not more? Some teams have almost 4 days off between games, just so the networks can extend their coverage. Anyway, what good are the extra time slots if they end up lowering your viewership per night? For me, there is nothing better than two games at the same time to pique my interest. When TBS and TNT staggered their start times and showed 4 games a night between 7pm and 1am, my interest was never higher. Now I can’t even keep track of who’s playing on any given night. At least the NHL is moving forward in its series, sometimes even scheduling two teams to play each other on back-to-back nights. Score another for hockey.

cheerleaders This one clearly goes the way of the NBA, though think about the impact cheerleading could have on the game of hockey. I was recently at an Islanders game on Long Island and witnessed my first hockey cheerleaders skating on the ice. Imagine the typical pretty cheerleader in the same tight uniform and short skirt, except now she’s carrying a snow shovel and skating fast on a very cold ice surface. Need I say more? Talk about some advantages. Basketball takes this one, but only because hockey hasn’t caught on yet.

So while basketball is clearly the most popular sport in this country, I’d say that when it comes to the postseason, Americans might be missing out on the most exciting professional postseason tournament of all. Now if only they could put some smart Americans in charge of promoting this sport instead of the stupid Canadians who are apparently running the show, maybe this sport would finally take off in popularity. Oh calm down Canadians, I’m just kidding. Well, not really, but I want to thank you for bringing us the excellent television show Kenny versus Spenny on CBC. I always wondered how long a human being could go without things like eating or sleeping when it came to gambling. Until next time, enjoy the playoffs, whatever they are.

RAC’S RANT will appear twice a month on SportsLizard.com

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