It was Game 7! It was the greatest day in sports! It was for all the marbles! It was basketball pushed to the outer limits! It was extremely important to ...
Um ... well ... OK, the people living in Detroit and San Antonio kind of got into it.
And now, the cry goes up everywhere across the land, but especially inside the offices of the NBA and ABC.
It is over!
Game 7 of the NBA Finals arrived at the same time as the latest issues of America's longest-running weekly sports magazines, Sports Illustrated and the Sporting News.
Sports Illustrated's cover featured a spectacular overhead shot of San Antonio's Tim Duncan and Detroit's Ben Wallace dueling fiercely in the paint, above words that underscored the players' intensity: "The Spurs and Pistons Made It a Fight to the Finish."
David Stern had to be pleased.
Until he read further down the cover and saw this parenthetical kicker:
"(But America Didn't Tune In. Did the NBA Learn Anything?)"
If not, the NBA should take notice of the cover of the newest edition of the Sporting News. On the eve of the first Game 7 in the NBA Finals since 1994, the Sporting News put Baltimore Ravens Kyle Boller and Derrick Mason (!) on its cover, posing the players in mesh practice jerseys and practice shorts.
Headline: "The NFL's Breakout Offenses. PLUS: Your team's plan to rev up its attack."
Subliminal message: NBA? We can't wait for training camps to open!
Television ratings for the first five games of the 2005 NBA Finals were down 35% from 2004. Ratings picked up in Games 6 and 7, although it should be noted that the 2004 Finals went only five games.
During the final minute of San Antonio's clinching 81-74 victory Thursday night, ABC's Al Michaels put the Finals to rest with this epitaph: "So a series that started out with a rout in every game winds up with a classic Game 5, a great Game 6 and a hard-fought, tightly contested two-possession game at the moment at the end."
A few seconds later, the hard-fought, tightly contested game was over, and during the championship trophy celebration that followed, Michaels provided the reason why America tuned out. Repeating the final score, Michaels said, "81-74. The 74 points the lowest ever in a Game 7 of the Finals in the shot-clock era."
On paper, the NBA should have had something to celebrate.
The Spurs have won three league titles in the past seven years. The Lakers have three titles in the last six years. The Spurs have two championships in the past three years. The Lakers have none in that span.
Duncan won his third NBA Finals most-valuable-player award Thursday, equaling a feat managed by only three other players. And their names are Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Shaquille O'Neal.
Still, America's relationship with the Spurs resembles those light-beer commercials that littered the postseason. Is that all there is? Yeah, the Spurs are three-time champions, but they needed a last-gasp brain cramp by Rasheed Wallace to avoid getting swept in Detroit. Yeah, Duncan is a classy player, but he tends to turn invisible at the oddest times. And when it comes to charisma, he sure is no Shaq, is he?
From a media perspective, the Spurs' winning their third title in seven years was overshadowed by at least three other story lines that played out during the Finals:
1. Phil Jackson rejoining the Lakers, which gave ABC and ESPN reason to run lots of old clips of the Lakers in the Finals, a.k.a. "The Good Old Days."
2. The NBA reaching a new labor agreement, meaning there will be a 2005-06 season and a chance to produce a Finals that doesn't include the Spurs and the Pistons.
3. Larry Brown's future, which, one way or another, figures to find him landing somewhere other than Detroit.
Oh, and this just in: The NBA draft is Tuesday! Lets get the Spurs off the stage already and get Jay Bilas and Andy Katz talking about new names who haven't yet cluttered an NBA Finals, and probably won't for a while, considering the straits of the lottery teams lined up to pick them.
Utah's Andrew Bogut is No. 1 on Bilas' "Big Board," as noted in an ESPN "draft kit" distributed this week. Of Bogut, Bilas says, "While he's not a great athlete, Bogut will be an All-Star caliber player for a decade."
Solid, but not flashy, in other words.
Sounds like the two teams that just played an NBA Finals that left the country yawning and yearning for NFL training camps to start.
Available for viewing this weekend:
(Channel 4, 9 a.m.)
Onto another professional sport that peaked in this country in the '80s. This is English grass, not French clay, and only two American men, Andy Roddick and Taylor Dent, remain in the field as Wimbledon reaches its first weekend.