Ask Gary? Why is NBA bigger than a better NHL?

by Gary Shelton on May 27, 2017 · 1 comment

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs, Tampa Bay Lightning

Crosby leads the Penguins toward another cup.

Crosby leads the Penguins toward another cup./JEFFEY S. KING

(Each week, the readers take over and play Ask Gary. They send in a question, or a couple, on Thursday night or Friday morning and we all talk about the world of sports.  Think of it as a radio show where you don't have to be on hold. Join us and ask a question, make a comment or be funny. Send the questions to

Saturday, 4 a.m.

The NHL playoffs have been exciting and even more competitive than usual as new records have been set for games decided by 1 goal and OT. Meanwhile, over at the NBA, everyone is eagerly anticipating the Cavs and Warriors rematch in the finals because up to now their playoffs have been mostly predictable blowouts. Yet the national media barely gives the NHL a mention while talking endlessly about the NBA. Why is the NHL so far off the national media radar and will it ever change?

Larry Beller

Larry,if you'll look, I'll bet the NHL's playoffs are always more dramatic than the NBA's. And don't get me wrong: I love the NBA. But as drama, it simply cannot stand up to the endurance race that is the Stanley Cup.

So why is the NBA bigger? Well, I think the roots of the

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game are deeper in more areas of the country. I think the TV package hurts the NHL. I think the helmets that cloud so much of the emotion -- and they're necessary because of safety -- hurts the NHL.

I also think it hurts that the NHL is a low-scoring sport compared to the NBA, which makes for more highlights.

Here's something else. The NBA, like most sports, has times where the coaches stop and devise strategy, which works or doesn't. That leads to debate and second-guessing. By its nature, the NHL is an ad-lib sport, an effort sport. When it comes to the day after, I think there are a lot more opinions to be drawn from the NBA, which the fans like.

I'll say this: I can turn on the hockey game tonight, and I'll bet it's going to be a one-goal game or an overtime game. The NBA? Not a chance. LeBron's team might win by 40. Steph Curry' team my win by 50.

Personally, I find the NHL rewards me for the time I've invested. The NBA? Not so much.

As LeBron James' legacy continues to grow, do you see him surpassing Michael Jordan as the GOAT?

Scott Myers

It could happen. A lot of younger viewers want to believe that what they're watching now is the best thing anyone has ever seen. And let's face it. We're talking about two fantastic players.

Personally, I'd say Michael. He's won twice as many NBA championships, and he's been MVP of the playoffs twice as often. Both players, if you're honest, needed talented players around them to get it done.

If James is going to do it, I think he has to get closer as far as the titles won.

To be the Greatest of All Time, a player not only has to have stats. He has to have moments. He has to be acknowledged by everyone that he's the best. Don't forget, James wasn't even thought of as one of the top three MVP candidates this year.

I think it helps Jordan's legacy  that he played with the true Dream Team, with Magic and Bird and Barkley and Malone. To be the best of that lot is a terrific feat.

Think of James as, say, Ted Williams. Williams was a great player, but was he better than Babe Ruth? Old timers will tell you no. Let's just say that both were great and then argue about who is No. 1. I'd say Jordan, but a 20-year-old fan might say James. An older guy might say Bill Russell.

How would you assess Kevin Cash's performance so far this season? Has he shown sufficient growth managing the various aspects of his job in your eyes?

Barry McDowell

It's difficult to analyze Cash in a vacuum. Remember, a lot of his decisions were made in concert with the front office.

For instance, the decision to use Alex Colome for more than an inning has not worked. Do you blame Cash, or Jim Hickey or the men upstairs. When he did it was Cash's decision. He handles in-game moves. But was the concept discussed by the front office beforehand. It's tough to believe that it wasn't.

 I think Cash has done okay. The clubhouse likes him, which is one of the key jobs he has. You can't blame him for the leaky bullpen, or for the injuries.

I've said this before, Barry. A baseball manager is the most limited coach in sports. A football coach can give the ball to his running back 30 times or throw it 30. A coach in basketball can feed one guy. A hockey guy can dictate minutes.

But baseball doesn't have free substitution, and the star waits for his turn at bat like everyone else. There are more games. and the starting pitching is changing every day.  It's a tough job.

So, yeah, I'd grade Cash about the same as you'd grade his team. Some good, some bad, Stay tuned.

Who are you picking to win the Stanley Cup?

Jim Willson

It's going to be an interesting matchup. Pittsburgh has the best player, but Nashville has the best goalie.

With the Stanley Cup, it helps to have won it before, and that's on the side of the Penguins, too. But Pekka Rinne can absolutely steal games, even against Sidney Crosby and the guys.

I'm old-school. I grew up being lectured about how a good defense stops a good offense. So let's say a new team -- Nashville -- is going to bring it home.

I wouldn't be surprised if Pittsburgh could win it again, though, Especially if it picks the right goalie and can win close games.

Why do you think, when it comes to professional sports, that the best of times, the golden ages, the peaks of fan interest for any of them are when there are one or two dominate teams or individuals over a period of years? You’d think the best of times would be when all the teams are pretty much equal and every fan’s team or favorite player has a shot at winning, but the more equal things are, seems to me, the more the sport fails to generate interest. Maybe I’m wrong, but if I’m right, then why do leagues (not individuals…or MLB…) promote equality of their teams? Why wouldn’t they want one or two dominant teams winning it all? Or is it a conspiracy, the leagues talking about equality but doing “behind the scenes” things to make sure some teams are better than others?

Cecil DeBald

Cecil, I think this is the reason: We love excellence. We may or may not be big fans of Tom Brady (I am) or the Patriots, but I think we like that there is a standard-bearer in the league. If your team beats the Patriots, well, they've accomplished something.

Parity is good during the last couple of weekends of the year, because it keeps fans involved. But if  your team has to sneak in by tie-breaker,how much joy can you have?

Think of it like an Olympic swimming race. No one wants it to be close. We want to see Michael Phelps dominating the water. We admire the great Yankee and Celtic and UCLA dynasties.

The leagues like to promote parity -- and they design their rules accordingly -- because you want as many satisfied fans as possible. I don't think it's a conspiracy. I've been around too many scouts and personnel directors who worked too hard to believe that.

That's one reason I admire dynasties. Most of them have a guy -- Belichick, Lombardi -- who is dynamic enough to resist the pull to the middle.

But say your team goes 9-7 and sneaks into the playoffs for one game. How would you remember that season. Probably as mediocre, right? None of are satisfied with winning a little bit. We want to win a lot. We want the dynasty.

Do you see the Bucs winning 10 or more games this season?  What part of the team worries you the most?

Jim Willson

I think they'll win right at 10 if the schedule doesn't wear them down. With New England, Atlanta (twice), Green Bay, Arizona, Carolina (twice) and New Orleans (twice) and Miami, it's a pretty daunting schedule. Of course, last year's Bucs' team played its best in its toughest part of the schedule.

The part of the Bucs that concerns me the most is its pass rush, as always. The Bucs simply play too many good quarterbacks to struggle at rushing the passer. I know, I know. Everyone seems to think Noah Spence will be a monster this year. But we'll see.

I think you always worry about the running game (including the offensive line). I think the secondary will be tested, but the Bucs did bring in new safeties.

I wouldn't be surprised if this new high-powered offense takes a few weeks to get going, too. It's one thing to throw weapons into a huddle; it's something else to be precise.

This still is a growing team. I would think they'll be pretty good in 2018. This, however, needs to be the year the Bucs get to the post-season. Remember what 1997 was to the Bucs' of Tony Dungy? It needs to be that kind of year.

You talked recently about the Rays being a 75-80 win team this year but some recent moves seemed to have strengthened the team. They have added by subtraction with the demotion of Blake Snell to the minors, putting Jumbo Diaz on the DL and adding the 2 flame-throwing rookies plus Tommy Hunter to the bullpen so the entire pitching staff looks more formidable now. Wilson Ramos is getting closer to returning which could potentially be a huge upgrade to the offense. Daniel Robertson has made a ton of impactful defensive plays to improve that aspect of the team if only temporarily. They are still hovering around .500 but do you think the upgrades could make a difference?

 Larry Beller

Any time you help out your weakest part of the team (the bullpen), it has to make a difference. I feel good when Joe Alvarado and Ryan Stanek enter the game, where I used to look for cover.

Frankly, it helps when the starters go deeper in games, too. Most bullpens can get 3-4 outs. It's harder to get 8-9. The more relievers you use, the higher the possibly that
one of them will be off.

I still think this team has a propensity for the hitting to shut off, especially against bullpens. But I agree with you about Robertson. He's been fantastic. We haven't seen shortstop play like that for years. Maybe since Bartlett. I wish he'd move to shortstop permanently.

I was talking to Colby Rasmus the other day, and he said the Rays were "a good fastball-hitting team. It's when they throw curves we get in trouble." Well, major leaguers can throw that pitch. So I'm still not sure that anything above 84-85 wins is possible. But a team that's .500 going into June can talk itself into having a chance. And remember, the schedule has been very good far with a lot of winning teams.

I know this: The Rays have been more fun lately. That doesn't always mean victory, but it means they're usually competitive.

Eventually, though, Diaz will get healthy. He's got the stuff to get batters out, but he doesn't always. But Stanek has the stuff to grow into a closer.

One thing to think about. The other day, I saw a statistic that the Rays had the three slowest pitchers in the league (Andriese, Cobb, Archer), all who took more than 26 seconds per pitch. But as long as those pitches get to the catcher, who's going to gripe? Still, it keeps us all up later.

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