The NBA started up this week. No one but the sports media, the players' families (game checks start getting paid) and most, but not all, players care. A lot of fans do not check in until that 10 day stretch before the playoffs start. Some only notice the league at Christmas after college football's regular season is over and most NFL fans know if their team is eliminated from the playoffs or not. Few care this early, or at all until April rolls around. They have a good reason. Does the season or regular season individual games matter? Not to the fans, but to the players, and how can we tell?
If you take a play off in the NFL or NHL, you will get lit up. If you are not physically destroyed, you will get torn apart by the media and possibly teammates because of the danger linemen face each play and the value of each win in a 16 game NFL season.
If you dog it in baseball or soccer, you will be ripped to shreds due to the lack of scoring. A special premium is attached to any scoring opportunity. Baseball also is an amazing blend of an individual sport masquerading as a team sport. Nearly all interactions are one on one, but the team must function as one. I witnessed a Boston crowd boo Manny Ramirez, who was carrying the offense that year, when he goofed in left field and cost the Sox a run.
College basketball spreads height around so much that it is possible for a less gifted in height and jumping ability team to make up for it with execution of a game plan (see Butler University). Plus, many players are playing for a potential payday after school in the NBA, Asia or Europe.
If you slack in the NBA, you will join a majority of your fellow players on a vast majority of plays. Scoring happens often and mistakes can be covered up. Running isolation plays or pick and rolls cuts off half the court. There are few physical consequences to playing, so you don't face the potentially horrific consequences of NFL or NHL players letting their foot off the gas pedal (think Warren Sapp's legal but dirty hit on Chad Clifton or Scott Stevens on Eric Lindros). No former NBA players are using wheelchairs at 45. Many fans do not appreciate the delicate footwork that goes into positioning for low post moves, defense and rebounding. That is partly due to the eyes following the ball not the feet and partly due to so few players being masters of that footwork.
This is why the 'effort' issue is always in play with NBA fan engagement. You can't teach height is an old saying, and the flip side is, no one develops height, it's a born trait. Some players like Allen Houston never learn to dribble well (or Dr. J dribble with his left hand) but are 6 foot 6 and can hit 20 footers 45% of the time. I went to a game in a half full Boston Garden about 8 years ago. Allen Iverson was the one guy giving 100% all game. You could visibly see and appreciate his passion and effort. Paul Pierce gave it his all maybe 75% of the time. The rest? Dogging it.
It is the nature of the game. The players know it and abuse it. This is why the NBA is a league that could remove half their regular season and NOT lose any fans. The media will deny this is an issue, but it has been since the '70s. This is the only sport that has to deal with this issue on a broad basis with fans. No other sport has to sell effort to their fans. If fans doubt a players commitment and effort, what effort are they going to put in? See you in the spring NBA.