I'd have to guess that 50 or so years ago, if you told Americans that two of the biggest sports-television events in American culture wouldn't broadcast an actual sport, you'd be called crazy.
But think about it for a second: the NBA Draft and the NFL Draft are powerhouse, mark-down-on-the-calendar moments in the sports year. Maybe not as thrilling or exhilarating as the Super Bowl or the NBA Finals, but certainly as omnipresent—after all, every team in the league participates, not just two clubs.
And while both the NBA Draft and NFL Draft have blossomed from humble beginnings (those old television clips don't reveal much glitz, glamor, or bright lights) to star-studded spectaculars, the NFL's edition blows the NBA's out of the water.
Certainly it's impossible to divorce the overall popularity of each league—the NFL is without a doubt more popular from coast to coast than the NBA—from the level of interest surrounding their drafts.
But that isn't the only reason. And neither is the venue: Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan for the NFL does sort of dwindle the Newark's Prudential Center in terms of wow-factor.
No, I can point to at least three more significant reasons why the NFL's draft is so superior to the NBA's.
First, is the timing. The NFL season ends in late January, early February. The NFL Draft doesn't come around until the end of April. When you consider how football-starved fans are after one quarter of the year passing by, it's little wonder that the Draft sparks such excitement, optimism, and debate: it gives fans their fix after a pretty lengthy withdrawal
The second reason hearkens back to a point made by a baseball theorist, the great George Will, who noted in the Ken Burns Baseball documentary that "football represents the manic division of labor that makes life confusing and, I should think, unsatisfying. I mean, who wants to grow up and be a third-and-long yardage pulling guard?"
Not to quibble with his big brain, but I think that's explicitly the reason why NFL fans love the draft.
When you include spots like kicker, punter, kick returner, punt return and the difference between a three-technique and a nose tackle, or a 3-4 outside linebacker and a 4-3 outside linebacker, there are just so many things to mix and match and speculate on that it lets fans feel like they're the GM, like they know their team's needs inside and out.
With only five men on the floor and that lack of speciality, the NBA just doesn't have the same depth.
But the main reason why I think Roger Goodell's offseason showcase overshadows David Stern's is much simpler, even if it's much "newer."
The NFL Draft has always been "bigger" than the NBA Draft. But I think the enormous gap between the two has widened considerably over the last two decades. What has changed regarding the crop of players during that time?
International, high school, and now one-and-done players have become more prevalent in the NBA Draft than collegians who reached upperclassman status. That means, by and large, the general public knows very little about these players. A significant portion of the top picks in tonight's NBA Draft did not compete in March Madness or the regular college basketball season.
As for the NFL: aside from the suspended Robert Quinn, the first 15 players selected in this year's draft played a college football season and a bowl game. Four of those men left college having stared in a national championship game (Cam Newton and Nick Fairly, along with Julio Jones and Marcell Dareus the year before.)
In short, the general public—I'm not talking just about the diehards who comb message boards and mock drafts daily—knows the crop of players much better top to bottom.
And since these drafts are all about stars and hero-making, knowing who were about to worship, ridicule, and give over our money to via tickets and jersey, that's a big deal.
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