Column: Off-court drama good for the NBA

Published 7:06 am Friday, November 5, 2004

By Staff
As NBA teams kicked off their 2004-05 seasons Tuesday and Wednesday, all eyes were on Los Angeles and Miami to see how Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant would perform after tumultuous offseasons.
This summer's off-the-court drama between the league's two biggest superstarts led to an acrimonious split that left basketball fans wondering how each would perform without the other.
Even after the two went their separate ways in June, following the Lakers lost to the Pistons in the NBA Finals, the Shaq-Kobe feud still burned and continued to escalate. A war of words was waged and brought to a head when it was discovered that Bryant, after he was arrested on sexual assault charges, told investigators that O'Neal has paid women to stay quiet about his own sexual escapades.
All the muck-raking, mud-slinging and the stain left on the NBA by Bryant's rape trial left basketball analysists asking if all the fussin' and fightin' between the former teammates was bad for the NBA.
Though no one will admit it, Shaq and Kobe's verbal tussle has livened up and brought some much needed attention to a league that was quickly losing fans and viewers.
It's unfortunate the the topic of much of the feud was Bryant's rape case, but everytime one of the superstarts hurled another insult, America's ears perked up.
People who didn't watch a single NBA game last season followed this summer's war of words blow by blow to see who would come out on top. Now that they're hooked on the idea of Shaq vs. Kobe, that desire to see what will happen next will translate onto the court as the season begins.
Take as evidence Tuesday and Wednesday and the week leading up to the NBA season's tipoff. "Who's will win more games? Who's team will make the playoffs? Who will make his team better?" were the questions every sports fan wanted to know.
No matter if the Lakers or Shaq's new team the Miami Heat lose every single game, all eyes will be turned to Los Angeles on Christmas Day when the former teammates clash on the court for the first time. Everyone wants to see what will happen when these two superstars, who concealed their contempt for one another for a long time, must face each other after the offensive statements each made.
Rest assured that people will be checking the NBA standings regularly this season to see who's doing better, Shaq's Heat or Kobe's Lakers. The two's petty bickering this summer has carried into the season, people will look to concrete results, i.e. wins, to decide who won the battle.
As the league's scoring, shooting percentage and fundamentals have steadily declined in recent years, Shaq vs. Kobe has rejuvenated interest in the NBA this season. And while the attention may be on the game for the wrong reason, bad press is better than no press. Anything that draws viewers is beneficial to the NBA.
NBA Commissioner David Stern prefers his players don't attack each other personally, especially in the media for all to hear. But anything that gets fans excited about the league and makes them forget the poor quality of basketball is a plus.