NBA 2012 State of the Union: Did the Lockout Help the NBA?

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NBA 2012 State of the Union: Did the Lockout Help the NBA?
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The lockout is but an afterthought these days, but did the shortened season help the NBA?

With the NBA drawing record ratings last season, many feared that the lockout would endanger the league’s rejuvenated popularity.

However, as the season rolls along through the midway point, it appears that the notorious 161-day labor dispute worked out in the league’s favor.

TV ratings are on pace to usurp last season’s totals, ticket sales are on par and the NBA’s usual cast of superstars (as well as a few newcomers), have perpetuated fan intrigue through the shortened season.

So what’s kept fans tuned in? Was it the onslaught of charity basketball games during the CBA meetings? Was it sheer depravity? Let’s examine.

The shortened schedule definitely made a positive mark on the NBA, starting with Christmas Day season openers. Yule time contests are always a television ratings spectacle, and the combination of season openers and the holiday this year created a Nielsen bonanza.

The 66-game schedule is compressed into the end of December to April, so teams are playing more frequently than a year ago. Fan interest is held day-to-day as the NBA action is constant and each game holds greater importance to the team’s final records.

More relevant games lead to better ratings, better ticket sales and greater fan satisfaction. It appears as if the NBA hit an unintentional home run. The season feels more concise than compressed, giving the games a more emphatic, less drawn-out feel.

Some analysts like ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy have criticized the NBA for implementing this schedule, stating that insufficient practice time would hail a poor quality of ill-prepared basketball to fans.

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Van Gundy makes a valid case, as Business Insider notes that NBA scoring is down considerably this season.

But as it stands, it’s tough to argue with the ratings success of the NBA’s grueling schedule. More people are developing a steadfast interest in following professional basketball regularly.

But of course, it takes more than a fan-friendly schedule to compel fans' interest in basketball night in and night out.  Quite a few interesting NBA headlines through the 2011-12 season have spurred fan interest, as well as the emergence of new contenders.

We could start with the Chris Paul deal, which sent the mercurial point guard to the large market Los Angeles Clippers, giving the birth to the now oft-pop-culture-referenced ‘Lob City’ crew. Second only to the Lakers, the explosive Clippers are the most demanded visiting team in the league.

The Clippers are a true showman’s dream, as Blake Griffin regularly strikes awe in the hearts of basketball fans across the nation with his gravity defying, almost unfathomable dunks.

Combined with Paul, it’s hard to take your eyes away from this showcase. While the NBA might have done the house-owned Hornets a disservice by pulling the Lakers trade before the season started, it certainly made a move for the betterment of the league.

Perhaps we should mention the Dwight Howard soap opera. While the uproar certainly toned down as the season rolled along, as we near the March 9 deadline, Howard’s name is certainly the one that will be tossed around the most.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Dwight Howard gives hope to some franchise, and demeans others.

While his move would be dreadful to the stasis of small-market clubs, he offers each potential suitor around the league hope. This will certainly stir a trending topic of where he’ll land around the trade deadline, and the media attention could rival LeBron James’ ‘Decision’ two summers ago.

Then there’s the Miami Heat, who continue to be dominant both on the court and in the media. As the ‘villains’ of the league (a role the team apparently embraced last season), it’s always a hit when the Heat travel to one of the league's 29 other cities.

This "good vs. evil" climax that games against the Heat are marketed as makes for great suspense-filled match-ups for the fan. The opposing team becomes a hero for a night when taking on the Heat, as a good portion of fans rejoice every time LeBron faces a setback in his pursuit of a NBA Championship.

And then, there’s the New York Knicks. While Linsanity is certainly redundant, tired news at this point, there’s no question he’s been the pseudo-Tim Tebow for the league since he broke out in Mike D’Antoni’s system.

No single player has impacted television ratings as much as Lin has, and his success has the whole nation, if not the world, abuzz.

Jeremy Lin has lifted perhaps the largest market in the NBA back to relevancy, creating a league-wide phenomenon and asserting the spotlight on one of basketball’s biggest stages.

As we prepare for the All-Star festivities, things could not be going better for the NBA post-lockout. The sport is attracting fans, high television ratings, compelling stories and seems like it’s in the midst of a renaissance.

The league could be returning to the greatness and popularity of the '90s, or even evolving beyond the glory of the Jordan Era.

The lockout is merely an afterthought these days, with the NBA thriving like it has this season. The second half of the season should be a thriller, as we see playoff seeding unfold and find out if 66 games leave fans satisfied or begging for more.

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