Wednesday, April 20, 2005

A fan's note

Tonight, I know that I'll be watching "American Idol" because Scott Savol is from Northeast Ohio and I'll be writing a story for tomorrow's Beacon Journal about how he did. (My uneducated guess -- I hate making predictions -- is that he may end up in the bottom three but will still make it through to next week's round.)
If I weren't on the job, I would be watching the Cavs game. I'm going to watch as much of the game as I can in any case, and let the DVR catch any other shows of interest.
I do this knowing that there's something a little absurd about wondering how the Cavs and the Nets do tonight. And the absurdity is not diminished by the breathless reports on ESPN, a local news anchor feeling compelled last night to predict the winner of that night's game, by turning on Fox Sports Radio in the morning and hearing Cavs talk -- or by such superstitious behavior as the Cavs' not posting the score in the Nets game while the Cavs were still playing on Tuesday.
For those of you who care not about basketball, the Cavs and the Nets tonight will, by their performance in separate games, determine who gets to be in eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings. That's good enough to get in the playoffs, but it still doesn't sound very impressive.
Eighth place. Remember how Bob Costas has griped about the wild card in baseball? Costas was fond of recalling the way broadcaster Russ Hodges called "the shot heard round the world" ("The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!"). Under current rules, Costas sniped, the call would be: "The Giants win the pennant! The Dodgers get the wild card!'')
"The Cavs clinch eighth place!" (all right, "The Cavs are in the playoffs!") would feel a little like that.
Not I've not been a big NBA guy in recent years. I can't remember if I watched an entire game in the finals last year. And if you go back a couple of years, you were not likely to find me watching the Cavs on TV.
So what's changed? Do I have to say it?
LeBron James.
I was a skeptic about this guy before he went to the NBA. I was convinced that the veterans would use elbows to remind him that there's a price for being in Spike Lee's commercials and hanging out with Jamie Foxx. But he has proven an amazing player, even in games where it seems no one else on the Cavs has shown up. LeBron in a Cavs loss can be better television than a bunch of no-names in a Cavs win.
Television knows this -- and the attention paid to the Cavs' playoff prospects over the last week or so acknowledges that the networks carrying playoff ball want one of the game's biggest stars there to help their ratings.
And, as a viewer, I want to see him in the playoffs. That doesn't mean I think the Cavs would go far -- if they get there at all. But when I can sit on my couch at home and marvel at what LeBron does during a regular season game, I'd like to see how he amps it up for a playoff game.

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