I have a friend who wants to write a novel and call it "Dan Rather Makes Me Nervous: Murder in the Newsroom."
I know how she feels.
The National Basketball Assn. Makes Me Nervous: Murder at Courtside.
Events of this season, especially in the last two months, have persuaded me the league is in trouble. Not financial trouble, at least until the players go on strike, maybe sooner than later at that. But the NBA certainly is in psychic trouble. If I'm nervous and I get into games with a press pass, what are the paying customers thinking?
The evidence suggests they are nervous, too. Nine teams couldn't sell out their games this season no matter who they played or what star came to town. At more than one site, first-round playoff tickets weren't sold out. In the first round, there were no solid favorites. That's an indication of weakness-by-parity because there is no such strength as strength-by-strength.
Yes, great teams are rare: the Celtics of Bird, McHale, Parrish and D.J.; the Lakers of Magic, Worthy, Kareem and Wilkes; the Bulls with the singles hitter from Birmingham. We've been spoiled by 15 years of rare teams.
But just because we've seen great ones, don't try to tell me today's NBA teams are bad only in comparison.
These teams are bad.
The NBA is in trouble.
This kind of trouble: It's playoff time and the little movie man gets the ink. And the Birmingham singles hitter gets the ink. And in one of the finalists' hometowns, the local newspaper declared it "CHOKE CITY."
The ink runs away from the basketball to the sideshows because there's nothing to say about the basketball except it's bad.
And this isn't about the fights and rasslin' and idiot chest-bumping and finger-pointing and trash-talking.
It's the basketball. Can't anybody here play this game? Is there a decent half-court offense in the NBA? When's the last time anybody except John Stockton made a decent pass three times in a night? When's the last time any team ran and ran and ran an offense, exhausting all the options and creating new options and dazzling us with inventions of the moment?
Whatever happened to point guards? Two thousand guys in college and there are two point guards in the draft, Jason Kidd and Charlie Ward, and Ward is a football player.
Maybe the little movie man should suit up. Give him some of those magic shoes he used to sell with the singles hitter. Then he could play Reggie Miller head-up instead of yapping. See how he likes that.
The NBA is in trouble not because it's rasslin' with a 24-second clock. It's in trouble because it has so many bad games. Good heavens, was that a man falling out of a revolving door? Or was it Patrick Ewing with the ball?
The Knicks' coach, Pat Riley, has done a great job with one player of quality. He has taken a handful of non-entities who can jump and run and throw forearms and melted them down into a Mack truck. Riley's statisticians keep track of "hustle points" given, for example, when a defender comes running at a shooter. It works this way: No hustle points means the guy loses playing time means he loses money. Riley can coach.
So now Riley has done it with Magic and he has done it with Anthony Mason. That's good coaching, and it's not easy or everybody would be doing it. So Riley gets deserved credit. And Phil Jackson gets a bad case of the envies. Jackson won with the singles hitter and didn't win without him. So he loses his cool because Riley is seen as a genius with a team in the Finals while Jackson is out of it--and all because of a foul called against Scottie Pippen when that foul isn't called twice in 1,000 games.
One of the NBA's troubles these days is that players mostly run the teams. If they don't want to practice, they don't. They're looking for ways to do it easier, which means doing it worse. They fly by chartered airplanes to make life easier. The stars and rookies get the big money; the Nos. 5 through 8 players get the shaft, and they're the workers who win games.
And we haven't even mentioned Dennis Rodman yet.
He's on the teevee with Jay Leno the other night.
His hair is blond. He used to be famous for talking. He once said Larry Bird would be just another player except he happens to be white and so the white media build him up as something special.
But now Rodman is famous for his hair being black and then red and then blond. And he's on teevee saying what would it be like if he and Madonna had a baby? As Dave Barry says, I am not making this up.
The NBA is in big trouble when Dennis Rodman is the star Jay Leno wants on his show.
And then, when Dave Letterman does a good thing and gives the funny Reggie Miller some teevee time, here comes the little movie man again to upstage Reggie. He comes out and gives Reggie--har har--John Starks' jersey.
What's it tell you about the NBA when you see Larry Bird in a space suit? He's selling hamburgers by playing H-O-R-S-E from outer space with the singles hitter from Birmingham.
It tells me the NBA is in trouble if the hamburger people think the best thing they can do is bring back Larry Bird in a space suit.
No wonder David Stern, the NBA commissioner, is nervous.
No wonder he wanted Mike Krzyzewski in the league. Stern failed in that one. He shouldn't give up, though.
He should buy another airplane ticket to the South.
He should get himself down to Birmingham and talk to the singles hitter and make him king of the world, if that's what it takes.