The Ultimate NBA vs. NHL Playoffs Debate

Josh Martin@@JoshMartinNBANBA Lead WriterJune 17, 2013

Every spring, the NBA and the NHL wind up competing for the affection of sports fans around the globe while figuring out which collection of highly trained, expertly managed millionaires should hoist a big hunk of metal as part of a semi-impromptu parade. Thousands (perhaps millions) of remote controls are worn out by viewers flipping between channels in a desperate search for the biggest thrill.

To help you sort through the noise, Bleacher Report brought together two of its leading voices for pro basketball (NBA Lead Writer Josh Martin) and pro hockey (NHL Featured Columnist Nicholas Goss) to represent their respective sports in a spirited, (mostly) respectful debate. Their topics of discussion ranged from nail-biting drama, star power and history to "extracurricular activity" and social media buzz.

And, to top it all off, we invited NFL Featured Columnist Nick Kostos to pick a winner...because the victor in any battle between hoops and pucks is always going to be pigskin.


Hey Nick,

It's that time of the year again! Spring's in full bloom, summer's right around the corner and the NBA and the NHL will soon crown their respective champions for the 2012-13 season.

As a "hoops head," I'll readily admit, I'm a big fan of playoff hockey. Giant dudes in heavy padding skating at full speed up and down the ice. Goalies going all out to stop the puck. Surprising stars coming out of nowhere. Playoff beards and goofy mustaches galore!

That being said, there's still nothing better than hoops powerhouses going head-to-head, with a shot at the Larry O'Brien Trophy on the line. The Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins have thus far been a great matchup for the Stanley Cup, but even you'd have to admit that it's tough to beat watching two teams that play the game as well as the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs do...



Hey Josh,

There's no better time of the year to be a sports fan than the springtime. As the focus of the hockey world shifts to the NHL playoffs, sports fans are treated to great games on a nightly basis.

No sport sees a higher increase in intensity, excitement and physicality than the shift from regular season hockey to playoff action. It's impossible to not get sucked into the fast-paced play with both teams trading scoring chances. For me, watching overtime hockey in a Game 7 where one goal decides the outcome of a season is the most exciting sports drama out there.

As someone who comes from a basketball family and grew up watching the Boston Celtics, the excitement of the NBA playoffs is breathtaking. As a star-driven league, watching the best NBA players on the planet, including LeBron James and Tony Parker, go head-to-head in the NBA Finals is must-watch TV.

With that said, the pursuit of the Stanley Cup (aka the best trophy in sports) can't be beaten.

There is nothing in sports that compares to the drama of the NHL playoffs. This postseason, we had a record 17 first-round games go to overtime, creating some memorable endings to games and series. The Bruins' historic comeback against the Leafs in the first round will go down as one of the greatest games every played in Boston, which is impressive for a city with over a century of historic sports moments.

Overall, the 2013 playoffs (not including the Stanley Cup Finals) have included 24 OT games, two Game 7 OT thrillers and 44 out of 80 games through three rounds were decided by a single goal, creating some heart-pounding drama for fans to take in.

Close games in the NBA are fun to watch, but nothing beats the sudden-death format in overtime during the NHL playoffs, where one mistake can ruin a season and a team's pursuit of the Stanley Cup. 




OK, OK...you win that point, especially after watching the Heat and the Spurs trade blowouts in the NBA Finals.

But what pro basketball has comparatively lacked in drama, it's more than made up for in star power. This year's Finals alone feature a pair of powerhouses, who employ no fewer than seven future Hall-of-Famers between them: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen for Miami; Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili for San Antonio. 

Not to mention the other momentary stars that have popped out of nowhere, from Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller to Danny Green and Gary Neal.

Keep in mind too that the NBA playoffs were absent a number of superstars in part (Russell Westbrook) or entirely (Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Danilo Gallinari). And yet there was anything but a shortage of high-wattage standouts throughout, from breakout stars like Paul George and Stephen Curry to established talent such as Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony.

You can't quite say the same for hockey, in which everyone's face is obstructed by a helmet, everyone's name seems to be plucked out of a grab bag of Canadian, Russian, and Scandinavian monikers and the sport's poster child (Sidney Crosby) is sitting at home after his Pittsburgh Penguins got swept by the Boston Bruins...



I must agree that this year's Stanley Cup Final does not have the same star power as the 2013 NBA Finals.

With that said, the Chicago Blackhawks do have some players who are household names, even to casual fans. The best examples are Jonathan Toews, one of the league's young superstars, and Patrick Kane, arguably the most skilled forward in the NHL and the best American-born player in the league right now.

While the Boston Bruins don't have a ton of superstars, they do have players that fans recognize because of their exciting style of play, including defenseman Zdeno Chara and winger Milan Lucic. Chara is the tallest player in league history, while Lucic is one of the NHL's premier power forwards. Both guys give you reasons to watch playoff hockey each night because of their physical play and big hits.

What the NHL lacks in star power in this year's Cup Final, it more than makes up for in history and tradition of the two franchises involved. The Bruins and Blackhawks final is the first Original Six matchup in 34 years with the Stanley Cup at stake.



The Spurs and the Heat certainly can't compete with that. San Antonio has "only" had a hoops franchise since 1967 and didn't become a part of the NBA until 1976, when the league took in the ABA's refugees.

As for the Heat, they've spent the season trumpeting their 25-year “tradition," which is practically on par with “yesterday” on the hockey scale of historical time.

Likewise, the history of the Larry O'Brien Trophy, which is awarded to the NBA champion, pales in comparison to that of Lord Stanley's Cup. The trophy didn't take on its current name and form until 1984, when soon-to-be-ex-commissioner David Stern switched the title from its previous honoree, Walter A. Brown. 

The Stanley Cup, on the other hand, has existed since 1893.

That being said, don't overlook the recent history of the two teams still playing in the NBA. The Spurs have four titles under their belt since 1999 and have made the playoffs every year since Tim Duncan was drafted in 1997.

The Heat have played in four Finals and nabbed two titles since 2006 and put together a historic regular season in 2012-13 that featured a 27-game winning streak (the second-longest in North American pro sports history) and a 66-16 record.

But where these NBA playoffs really win out is in the goings-on outside of the game itself that so captivate fans and media alike. In the Finals alone, you've got the grumpiness of Gregg Popovich, the competing legacies of LeBron James and Tim Duncan and the background between those two all-time greats dating back to the 2007 Finals. There is the rise of Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard, the declines (and phoenix-like rises) of Manu Ginobili and Dwyane Wade and whatever it is that the Internet has decided to make of Chris Bosh on any given day.

And, of course, the ongoing game of tug-of-war between "What's wrong/right with LeBron/the Heat?,"How great are the Spurs?," "Whose fans are better?," "What's wrong with the Heat?," and "SERIOUSLY, GUYS, LIKE, WHAT THE HECK IS UP WITH THE HEAT?!?! I THINK THE SKY IS FALLING ARRRRGGGHH!!!" 

Take THAT, NHL...  



I have to agree that the Spurs and Heat have been two of the NBA's most successful franchises of late, with several players trying to carve out a place among the league's greats.

When players are not battling on the ice, there's still no shortage of intensity between two NHL teams in a playoff series. Players often talk trash to one another, and even the teams themselves talk trash and make jokes. Check out this Bruins sign at TD Garden during the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals, for example.

The storylines between games are also fascinating. Suspension debates create large rifts and angry discussions between fanbases, and in this year's Stanley Cup Final, the contrasting styles of these two teams (the physical Bruins vs. skilled Blackhawks) will give fans plenty of material to discuss through seven games.



There's no denying the intensity of playoff hockey and the appeal of the trash talk (and fights) emanating thereabout—though I tend to agree with Jalen Rose's unspoken implication as to why fisticuffs are so accepted in the NHL and MLB, but not in the NBA and the NFL. (Hint: It probably has something to do with skin color.)

But while the NHL and the NBA both provide ample material for banter among fans, there's no contest as to which league fares better with today’s main avenue for said banter: social media.

According to Fan Page List, the four most followed pro teams in North America, as measured by adding up Facebook and Twitter followers, are all based in the NBA—the Los Angeles Lakers (19.5 million), the Chicago Bulls (9.6 million), the Miami Heat (9.6 million), and the Boston Celtics (8.1 million).

In fact, there are nine NBA teams with larger online followings than that of the NHL's most popular franchise, the Detroit Red Wings, whose following is approaching 1.7 million.

The difference is even more jarring when comparing individual athletes. Per Fan Page List, Alex Ovechkin is the most followed pro hockey player, with just under 719,000 followers between Facebook and Twitter. That total, while impressive on its own merits, would make him only the 37th-most followed basketball personality—active or retired, in the NBA or abroad—on the social media scene today.



While the competition for the most Twitter followers is not something that the NHL is going to beat the NBA teams in, there's no question that NHL Twitter feeds are much more entertaining than those found in the Association. For example, the Los Angeles Kings bring great humor and jokes to their feed, even in the offseason, as SportsGeekHG outlines.

Not even the Dallas Cowboys can win a Twitter battle with an NHL team, as the Dallas Stars proved to us earlier in the year.

I would also argue that NHL players are more active on Twitter and funnier than their NBA counterparts. Phoenix Coyotes forward Paul Bissonnette is arguably the best NBA or NHL athlete to follow on Twitter.

It's cool to have more followers, but what does that really prove? NBA players and teams are more popular? How do fans benefit from that?

As a fan, I don't care who has more followers because, as someone who loves social media, I want to be entertained on Twitter and not just receive boring game updates, news and promotion information from team and players' accounts.



Solid choices all around. And you're right to point out that the value in social media, particularly as it pertains to fans, is in quality (of content) rather than quantity (of consumers). 

To that end, I would invite you to check out the Twitter feed of the Dallas Mavericks, the insightful activities of Kobe Bryant on Facebook and Instagram and the myriad other NBA players (including Kevin Love and Jamal Crawford) who regularly field questions from followers and often interact with the social media sphere by "taking over" the accounts of the NBA, the NBA on TNT, Nike Basketball and adidas, to name a few. 

But, it's not up to us to decide which side "wins" this debate. Let's see how the arbiter of this argument—NFL Featured Columnist Nick Kostos—scores the debate.


Nick and Josh,

After reviewing the merits of both the NBA and NHL postseason, I've determined that the argument for the NBA playoffs was more convincing. 

While all the arguments made were cogent and persuasive, I've made this decision primarily because of the debate on star power and social media. The NBA's star power is obviously stronger, and while there are entertaining NHL follows on Twitter, it just doesn't have the social media appeal of the NBA. 

I did believe the NHL argument was stronger as it related to the actual games, as the fast-paced, up-and-down nature of the NHL postseason draws in even middling hockey fans (like myself).

But, since the basketball arguments were stronger in the other two categories, I have to rule in favor of the NBA. 

Nick Kostos

NFL FC/Arbiter-at-Large


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