5 reasons the NBA is better than the NFL: #3 Finals vs. Superbowl

...continued from Part 1

"How does it end?" The answer to that question ultimately determines the weight of any tale ever told. A bad ending can ruin any story, no matter how great the rest. Those experiences disappoint the most because they raise our hopes and expectations only leave us unfulfilled and (sometimes) bitter (I'm looking at you Lost). The ending isn't everything, but you can't have a great story without a great ending. It's no different in sports. You may think this category tips in the NFL's favor since the Superbowl:
  • Accounts for the 21 most-watched programs in American TV history in terms of total audience
  • Features a concert performance that draws the biggest names in the music industry
  • Creates the only television spectacle during which you want to watch commercials
  • Registers on the "National Holiday Participation Scale" somewhere between Halloween and Valentine's Day (yes, I know the Superbowl isn't actually a holiday...but I ask you: why not?)
Undoubtedly, the Superbowl is unparalleled as an entertainment spectacle.

Take a break from sports for a moment and let's compare two movies: Transformers and The Shawshank Redemption. From strictly a box office standpoint, it's not even close. Transformers made $319,246,193 in the US plus another $390,463,587 worldwide, totaling $709,709,780. Shawshank...$28,341,469. (The entire Transformers saga worldwide grossed $2,669,807,552, with another movie this summer)

Despite the fact that Shawshank gained less than a 25th the popularity, would anyone like to claim Transformers tells a better story? Anyone? Admittedly, Transformers excels in elements that draw people to a summer movie: impressive CGI, big explosions, fast cars, a girl to look at (Megan Fox), and Shia Labeouf expressing all range of emotion, through one word no less:

Transformers may do many things well, but on the whole underachieves in the foundational aim of movies: to tell a great story. You can dress a turd in a tuxedo, but at the end of the day it's still a turd. Great action scenes, explosions, hot girls, and clever one liners do not make a story. My wife said it best after we watched the 3rd Transformers:

"It gets old watching things blow up for three straight hours" -Nicole Payne

Contrast this with the artful way we journey with a man wrongly sentenced to two life sentences in prison and his struggle to survive, and even humanize, an utterly degrading system. Rather than describe it, experience for yourself:

(Warning: it's a prison movie so there's no shortage of "salty language")

Those 5 minutes tell a better story than all 451 minutes of the entire Transformers saga. If you haven't figured it out by now, Transformers is analogous to the Superbowl and Shawshank to the Finals. Bruno Mars, Bud Light commercials, and your Dad's chip dip may very well enhance the Superbowl's entertainment value, but they do not make a story. My reasons for why the Finals are a better medium for story than the Superbowl in bullet point fashion:
  • Blowouts: In the Superbowl a blowout is largely a disappointing affair, while in the Finals if a team gets abused in any game, it creates a unique opportunity for the spectator. In this situation we get insight into the character of both teams: Will Team A allow success to cause complacency? Will Team B lay down and quit? Every game adds a wrinkle to the story of the series, regardless of the score.
  • Back and Forth: My favorite reason. Both teams come out in game one with their respective game plans. For game two the losing team is faced with the challenge of adjusting their strategy to get the upper hand. This dance continues throughout the series, and we vicariously experience the complexity of the game by watching.
  • Home and Away: Even omitting the obvious benefits of home town fans actually being able to watch their teams play, adding the additional elements of home court advantage and challenge of winning on the road add intricacy to every game. Thrilling road wins, demoralizing defeats at home, and the pressure to "protect this house" add extra drama throughout an entire series.
  • The better team wins: No matter how much we enjoy upsets, there's something unjust about a system where a far superior team can throw away an entire season with one bad game. Requiring teams to win 4 games removes the "any given Sunday" possibility, and ultimately benefits the sport. Think about this: if the NBA finals worked like the Superbowl the last three NBA champions would change. 
  • Seven games: Perhaps the most obvious reason: WE GET TO WATCH (UP TO) SEVEN SUPERBOWLS EVERY YEAR. I'll admit the do or die nature is lost in a few of those games, but any time a series is at 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1, 3-2, or 3-3 at least one team enters a "must-win" situation. 
In a best of seven series we get the individual storyline each game supplies, but in addition every game is a story within the larger saga. Games are individual battles, a series becomes a war.

Continue reading: Reason #4: Better Defense

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