LOS ANGELES — For the big winners of Super Bowl week, it is time to step forward and be recognized. So go ahead, LeBron James, Anthony Davis (and his dad), Kristaps Porzingis, Kyrie Irving, James Harden and agent Rich Paul. Take a bow.
The Super Bowl news vortex of past years, a force so all-encompassing that other sports might as well have ceased to exist during early February, has not materialized this time. In fact, as expertly detailed by USA TODAY Sports’ Dan Wolken, the week heading into the big game has been a bit lame.
And, ever the opportunist, the NBA has stepped into the void perfectly, thanks to the mischievous machinations of its biggest stars and their impeccable sense of timing.
Things started with a bang Monday. The NFL kicked its media day up to the top of the schedule a few years ago, turning it into media night and putting it on Monday, essentially to generate more buzz earlier in the week. It worked brilliantly when Snoop Dogg was serenading Cam Newton, when Rob Gronkowski was reading from an erotic novella (yes, really) or even when Marshawn Lynch wasn’t saying anything except how he’d only turned up so he wouldn’t get fined.
But this year the Monday sound byte didn’t come out of media night at all, it came hours earlier from the lips of Paul, Davis’ recently acquired agent who, ahem, just so happens to be James’ best friend. It involved dropping the carefully plotted narrative that the NBA’s most impressive eyebrow wanted no more part of life in New Orleans, the same place he professed to love so much that he had started to speak its slang.
Before long all discussions centered around the different ways the story line could play out. If the Pelicans would rebuff trade offers. What more Davis could do to engineer a switch to his preferred destination of Los Angeles. The rights and wrongs and perils of excessive player power. Even Mr. Davis snared five minutes of fame by saying his son shouldn’t sign with the Boston Celtics.
Media night passed by without so much as a marriage proposal, its wider impact suffering perhaps from a dose of New England Patriots fatigue and that the L.A. Rams play in a city only just waking up to the fact that it has a football team (actually, two of them) that is very, very good.
Meanwhile, the NBA news cycle refused to stop, with the Lakers providing the bulk of the tweetable action. The bizarre saga of James’ interminable injury absence came to a sudden conclusion, when he surprisingly returned in an overtime thriller against the L.A. Clippers. Then he sat out again Saturday, when a defeat to the Golden State Warriors spawned a reported locker room spat between head coach Luke Walton and obsolete veterans JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley.
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The NFL is the master at getting the nation to watch its games, with viewing figures still astronomical despite what the president would have us believe. When it comes to its ultimate showpiece, much of the world tunes in, a situation that wouldn’t change even if they put Nickelback as the halftime act. Now that would be a news conference worth witnessing.
However, the NBA is the true expert at getting the country to talk about its goings-on and relentless drama plays. It is the sporting king of the social media world, with a younger fan base to match. The media scape is more than big enough for both sports so it is not like the NFL is being pushed out. But how this week has evolved and the make-up of the most popular news content just shows how the stars of the NBA sphere captivate focus in a way that very few NFL celebrities are capable of.
It might all be different next year. If the Super Bowl LIV showdown is between the Dallas Cowboys and their late-season signing Colin Kaepernick against a Kansas City Chiefs team spurred by Patrick Mahomes’ 83 touchdowns, no one’s going to be talking much about the NBA. We will see.
In truth, the best Super Bowl story lines are often the ones that have little to do with the game. The best ones about Tom Brady, except for when a Mexican television reporter asked to marry him more than a decade ago, tend to take place post-game, like when his wife Gisele Bundchen launched into a tirade against abusive fans and when his game-worn jersey got snatched by a pseudo-journalist two years ago. This year, we’re still waiting.
Yes, the triumphant team from Sunday’s spectacle will get to wear the title of world champion, but the NBA has reigned supreme in terms of capturing the public’s attention this week. Even the flailing New York Knicks got in on the fun by shipping Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks for a blockbuster arranged Euro-marriage with rookie sensation Luka Doncic. Then the Celtics’ Kyrie Irving gave the kind of straight talking that would have made Super Bowl media night better, walking back his earlier promise and casting doubt on whether he will re-sign with Boston or pack up his free agency U-Haul and take his talents elsewhere.
And if you like something solid, consistent and so reliable that you can put your mortgage on it, Houston’s James Harden continues to score all the points, all the time, at a historic rate. He extended his streak of games with 30 or more points to 26 on Saturday night.
The Super Bowl should be a beauty, because in case you hadn’t noticed, every one of the Patriots’ eight Brady-led appearance in the title game have been tense thrillers. But while the NFL will own Sunday – because it always owns winter Sundays – the NBA has won Super Bowl week. And that might be the biggest upset of all.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Martin Rogers on Twitter @RogersJourno