WASHINGTON — It shouldn’t come as a surprise to read the NBA Finals, a rubber match between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, are the most-watched since Michael Jordan’s final championship in 1998.
Nor should it shock you to read the NBA Finals are dominating the NHL’s Stanley Cup Finals, tied at two games apiece between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators, in national television ratings.
Chris Russell of 106.7 The Fan would have you know, if the NHL were merely shoved down American sporting fans’ throats the way the NBA is, the two sports would be nearly identical in popularity.
“Everybody says that the NHL should promote itself better, that if they promoted itself better, if they had better storylines or higher-profile individual athletes, that they would get better ratings,” Russell formulated his argument to Chad Dukes and Nick Ashooh on Monday.
“And my contention is it takes the media, as a fuel to that vehicle, to drive that train, to drive that platform, to give that opportunity,” he said. “And when you give 10 minutes on ‘First Take,’ or ‘Hot Take’ — or whatever [the show] is called — to Draymond Green’s mom, after doing an hour and 50 minutes on a terrible, uninteresting NBA Finals already, it pisses me off that you won’t even acknowledge P.K. Subban and the NHL Finals.”
Welcome to Chris Russell’s Super Bowl.
Only once a year is he blessed with the good fortune of making this absurd argument, that the NBA — despite all empirical evidence — only remains more popular than hockey in the U.S., not by popular demand, but by an overabundance of media coverage.
“See, isn’t that laughable enough that he makes that statement and we’re supposed to just take it seriously?” Ashooh retorted. “Chris, you’ve got to remember hockey is a very regional sport. It doesn’t take away from the great playoffs that we’ve had. Most people growing up in America didn’t grow up playing hockey. They’re not familiar with P.K. Subban and his bad breath and everything else in the NHL.”
“We’re interested in things that we’re familiar with when it comes to sports, or just things in society,” he added. “We grow up playing basketball. We knew who LeBron James was when he was 14 years old.”
“My point is that people only care about what is shoved down their throat,” Russell said. “And I used this example: ‘American Idol’ was the most hyped reality television show in the world, just constantly shoved down your throat everywhere. It was the talk of everything for years, and years and years. You just couldn’t get away from it. As soon as people just got bored with it, tired of it, stopped talking about it, the damn show went away.”
“What TV show in the history of mankind hasn’t run its course?” Ashooh replied. “You can’t take TV shows and compare them to sports. It’s not the same thing.”
“By the way,” Dukes chimed in. “Do you know how old the NHL is going to turn this year?”
“Yes,” Russell answered. “100.”
“Right. We’ve had 100 years. Nobody likes it,” Dukes said. “It’s had its shot. It’s over. There’s a bunch of you nerds that like it — great, enjoy yourself — the rest of us have decided that we’d rather watch something else. That has nothing to do with the media, nothing to do with it.”
“I’ve watched it,” he added. “It’s okay.”
Russell’s argument weaved in and out of coherence over the course of 15 outrageous minutes. At one point, he tied the presidential election into his elaborate equation: “Trump was elected president because he was given a platform over, and over, and over and over again to influence and hoodwink about 50 bazillion dumb Americans. …Trump won the election with no help from the media, right? None?”
“Oh my God,” Dukes said. “Donald Trump’s presidency, you think it’s a parallel argument to why the NHL doesn’t get good ratings?”
“I didn’t say it was a parallel argument,” Russell said. “What I’m trying to point out, which is more than fair, is that we in the media shape how people think, operate, what we like, what we don’t like.”
“You think the media was pro-Trump?” Dukes asked.
“Absolutely,” Russell replied. “Yes.”
“Russell, you’re out of your mind,” Dukes said.
“Sidney Crosby could walk into any Bradleys in this country and not get recognized,” Dukes went on to say. “LeBron James can’t go anywhere without the whole world knowing who he is.”
“I wonder why,” Russell said. “Because he’s been on the cover of Sports Illustrated since he was 14 years old!”
“Because he sells Sports Illustrateds, Russell!” Dukes shouted.
“I know!” Russell, seemingly, agreed.
“No, you don’t know!” Dukes shouted back hysterically.