I know Bert wrote about this already today, I just wanted to add my two cents. Zero hockey blogs on BTB since its launch and now two today, big day for sure.
I’m a big basketball guy. Played my whole life, continue to play/officiate it today. However, I grew up with hockey playing friends, and I really enjoyed watching it, too. I feel like I’ve definitely seen more hockey than the average basketball fan.
Anyway, there certainly is somewhat of an NBA vs. NHL dynamic considering their seasons go on at the exact same time. The NBA is way more popular and gets a ton more media exposure. This brings up the first of my points:
Does the NBA get more exposure because it’s more popular, or is it more popular because it gets more exposure?
This is sort of a chicken-or-the-egg type of situation, to which I’ll say it’s a little bit of both. The NBA is more popular because it has more stars, guys people have been following since they played in college or even high school. However, you can’t tell me that if ESPN covered hockey in the same capacity they cover the NFL, NBA or even the MLB that it wouldn’t be more popular. Sports media covered the shit out of the Cavs and Warriors steamrolling their opponents in early rounds of the playoffs, but you barely heard about competitive NHL series. I had no idea the Predators were an 8 seed until the Cup started. At the end of the day, I think the NBA would still be more popular even with hockey exposure. However, I think there are a LOT of people out there who would watch and love hockey if they were exposed to it more.
Basketball and Hockey are Inherently Different Sports
It’s tough to compare these two sports because even though they’re played at the same time, they are extremely different. Here’s why. In hockey you’re usually playing 4 lines of 3 forwards, as well as 3 defensive pairs. Add in the goalie, that’s 19 guys getting solid play time every game. In basketball, that’s not the case. You’ve got 5 guys on the court at once, and NBA rotations usually go 8-10 guys deep. A star like LeBron James is gonna play 40+ of the 48 minutes a game come playoff time. A hockey star like Sidney Crosby, though? He logged 17:17 of ice time in Game 6, out of a possible 60 minutes. That’s just how hockey is. You can’t have guys (besides the goalie obviously) playing 90% of games, it isn’t physically possible. I love the fact that hockey teams need depth to be successful. In basketball, depth is important, but not nearly to the degree it is in hockey.
Stars Have More of an Impact
Because of what I just said, star players are infinitely more important in basketball than in hockey. Let me explain. Sidney Crosby, the best hockey player of our generation, plays a little under 1/3 of a clinching Game 7. LeBron or Kevin Durant or Steph Curry? Those guys are playing nearly all of every playoff game. For this reason, if you have a star in basketball, you have an immediate advantage. Put Crosby on one of the NHL’s worst teams and they’ll certainly get better. But put LeBron on any NBA team and they’re instantly a playoff team, if not title contenders.
Hockey Players are Tough, But so are Basketball Players
It’s always amazed me how hockey players do everything that they’re doing, while on skates. They make it look so easy. It’s a physical sport, guys lose teeth, etc. If you don’t think hockey is the hardest sport to play, you’re wrong. When people say hitting a baseball is the toughest thing to do in sports, I’ll immediately correct them and say it’s being a hockey goalie. Not that I’ve ever done it, but trying to stop 100 mile-per-hour slap shots from going into a net while simultaneously getting screened by your opponents as well as your teammates sounds pretty freaking impossible. However, just because they aren’t as tough, don’t act like basketball players are a bunch of wimps. Yeah, some of them can flop and be dramatic, but don’t generalize that to every basketball player. Ever seen Ben Wallace? The dude wore headbands around his biceps.
Basketball is still a physical, contact sport. Are they getting their teeth knocked out on a nightly basis, or slammed into the boards? Absolutely not. But these guys are the best athletes in the world going at each other full speed. They’re stepping in for charges, taking elbows to the face, and maybe even taking the occasional shot below the belt (Get it???? Because the blog is called Below The Belt?!?!) That doesn’t come without a level of toughness.
The NBA isn’t the Best Representation of Basketball
I kind of hate the NBA. There, I said it. Let me explain. I’m a Knicks fan so that’s part of the reason why, but there’s just a lack of effort and defense in the league. This new superteam era has the players all buddy-buddy with each other in case they want to play together somewhere and I hate that. You should despise the guys you’re going up against, at least while you’re on the court against them. However, just because the NBA has become watered down doesn’t mean we should hold that against basketball in general. College basketball is full of guys who play hard, and play the right way. Stars don’t have the same impact in college as they do in the NBA. Two years ago LSU had the best player in the nation, Ben Simmons, and didn’t even make the tournament. March Madness is and always will be the best sporting event of the year. Kids playing the most important games of their lives, every game win-or-go-home? It doesn’t get better than that.
My whole point in writing this blog is this. The NHL is awesome, and totally underappreciated. The Stanley Cup is the best trophy in sports, and it would be nice to see these players’ journey for it get some more attention. However, comparing the NHL to the NBA is dumb. The sports are so different in nature, and the NBA isn’t even the best representation of basketball. So if you’re a hockey fan who can’t watch any other sport without saying why hockey is better, stop doing that. And if you’re a basketball fan who unnecessarily shits on hockey because “it isn’t as popular,” stop that, you’re being ignorant. Mic drop.