With all due respect to soccer's World Cup, Aussie Rules football, the Tour de France, Formula One racing, the NFL, MLB, NHL and poker, anyone who has been watching TV lately in the wee hours of the morning knows that the world's greatest ongoing athletic spectacle is the NBA playoffs.
You might sleep-walk through much of the NBA's regular 82-game season, but there is nothing in the world that matches the intensity of the playoffs and all-around ability of the world's greatest athletes. And this year's are better than ever.
Michael who? Anyone remember him? There is another No. 23 out there who may actually surpass the legend (and at this point he almost certainly seems to be a bigger mentsch). LeBron James single-handedly took the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games against the East's No. 1 seed, the Detroit Pistons.
With a little bit better supporting cast (they need a Scottie Pippen-type) and another year or two of seasoning, the historically lowly Cavs may soon make a run at an NBA title. Lebron is simply incredible - he plays point, shoots from outside, attacks the rim and has that intangible ability to read situations before they happen and make the perfect pass, a la Magic or Larry. And he's only 21 (but looks and plays like someone 10 years older).
Cleveland was able to play Detroit only after getting past the Washington Wizards and their unbelievable guard, Gilbert Arenas. He's all of 24 years old. There's a great rivalry building here.
And that's just for starters. What about all the other superstar rivalries? Kobe vs Nash; Nash vs Nowitzki; Dwyane Wade vs Chauncey Billups; Duncan vs Dirk; Shaq vs the World, and all sorts of last-second heroics with so many games going down to the wire.
Now contrast the excitement of an NBA seven-game series - or any playoff anywhere - to the silliest sporting event ever about to take place in Israel: next week's BSL Final Four.
After three rounds and 30 games, including a third round that has been termed by everyone as a total waste of time, extraneous, unnecessary and superfluous (use Shift-F7 on your computer and take your pick), four teams have qualified for next week's semi-final and final.
The third round league games were not only a big yawn, but the top teams have lost their edge and hence, head into the Final Four not necessarily at their peak.
The declared reason for all of this nonsense - and I couldn't have made this up even if I wanted to - is that in a system of one-game winner-take-all, anything can happen, i.e. maybe Maccabi Tel Aviv will have an off night and lose the championship for only the second time since 1970 (note to A.B. Yehoshua: we are not yet a normal country).
A one-game series perhaps works for the NCAA basketball championships where the players are supposedly "student-athletes" and all the fans (i.e. the students) are presumably busy with their studies, but it's no way to decide a professional championship. There is no European country that I know of where there is not at least a best-of-three playoff series - and in most cases it is best-of-five.
The same could be argued regarding the Euroleague Final Four - in fact I think it is safe to say that in a playoff series, Maccabi would likely have beaten CSKA for the championship. The Russian team could not have maintained the same intensity for a series as they did for one game in Prague, and Maccabi would have figured out the CSKA defense. That's the beauty of a playoff: the adjustments, the changes, the rivalries that grow during a short and intense series.
And what happens if Maccabi should lose next week? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. They have a contract with the Euroleague until 2008 and there is no guarantee that another club, even if it will be Hapoel Jerusalem, will even be given a place in Europe's top league.
In the meantime, let me keep getting up at 3 a.m. to watch Dirk and Steve, Shaq and Dwyane and all the others. If I don't manage to stay awake for next week's Final Four, I know that it really doesn't matter.
Todd Warnick is a former senior referee in the Israeli National League and in Europe.
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