This past week the NBA changed sports forever. LeBron James conspired with Olympic friends Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to join forces on one powerhouse team in the NBA—the Miami Heat.
This event was hyped to new levels, which included an hour long ESPN special where LeBron announced where he would be calling home from now on. How will this affect the NHL going forward?
This will be looked at in two parts.
Part No. 1: The Hype Machine
For us Canadian hockey fans, a similar format already exists with TV networks like TSN, the SCORE and Sportsnet that all run hours of dedicated broadcasting for the NHL trade deadline and "Canada Day" free agency, which is held on July 1. I personally find myself glued to the TV.
This part of the hype machine has room to grow and this year the NBA showed that. It will likely be a larger factor in the United States for MLB (although how shocked would you be to see all the top UFAs sign with the Yankees). The NFL is without a collective bargaining agreement presently and from what I have read, was taking notes.
Part No. 2: Conspiring Players
I hear fans of previous generations talking about how prior to free agency players hated their counterparts on the opposing team. These days, players hug before the contest starts and it may even be worse during the battle. I'm all for good sportsmanship, but give me some classic, intense rivalry any day. It's nice to know NHL players Crosby and Ovechkin have a level of respect, but maintain their competitive rivalry with one another.
Loyalty to a team is not as strong for the players these days, and free agency has made sure of that. It’s all about business and dollar signs. The Olympics, in some cases, contributes to the "let's all be friends" theory, but seeing the build-up for Canada and Russia or Sid and Ovy this past winter reminded me of the international battles of their past.
Even the classic games between Canada and the US in the Vancouver Olympics represented sports at their best. For Canadians, it compared to the 1972 and 1987 victories against the Soviet Union, and for Americans the passion rekindled the memory of the Miracle on Ice from 1980 in Lake Placid. That’s the fire we all crave. Is it possible to have the best of both worlds?
The Olympics also connects player in some cases for life. Gretzky and Lemieux will always be on opposite sides for the debate of greatest ever, but in 1987 they found a connection a country will never forget. The pass, the shot! Wow, I still get chills (No disrespect to Dale Hawerchuk as he was just as important in the historic goal).
This is where Part No. 1 and No. 2 merge
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, in a time of free agency, were presented an opportunity that has never been seen before in history. After Olympic bonding, they found a way to play together in the NBA. Imagine in 1987 if Gretzky and Lemieux had the chance to join forces in Pittsburgh or since it's my story Toronto?
The only way I see the NHL having an opportunity to raise the bar too, and join the other pro sports in the US hype market is if in 2013 Sidney Crosby puts aside the loyalty we all believe he has to the Penguins and looks for a chance to make a statement.
Ovechkin already closed that door, signing a 13-year deal in 2008, but Sid the Kid has the chance to spark the hype machine! It would even be great if he used this opportunity to build the drama, and unlike LeBron pledged his services to Pittsburgh with the world watching (although I’m sure New York, Toronto, and Montreal would all like to have a chance to land Crosby).
Who would join Sid if he chose to build an NHL's Hall of Justice? Following the same idea of Olympic teammates joining forces, the other potential UFAs in 2013 include Ryan Getzlaf, Brendan Morrow and Jerome Iginla. Shea Weber may also be a UFA as well.
It won't be to the same level in the United States as the LeBron saga but it's as close as the NHL could make it. In Canada it would be an amazing ratings grab.
At this point, I believe the NHL will find a way to make some money (maybe for charity) setting up an exclusive television agreement in the LeBron image with TSN and hopefully ESPN, as well as making sure they can release all NHL signings or trades via a controlled breaking news format. This doesn’t have to wait for 2013 and I’m sure the other big sports won’t waste any time either.
I miss the loyalty of players to their team and the intense rivalry in sports as much as the next guy, but in this the age of communication the evolution of sports continues to grow.
We’ve now seen glimpses of both worlds (rivalry and hype) and I’m enjoying the ride!