New Zealanders are getting more and more into US sport. Steven Adams' success with the Oklahoma City Thunder has seen casual Kiwi sports fans follow the NBA closer than ever.
Even after the Thunder were eliminated in game seven of the Western Conference Finals New Zealanders continued to follow the NBA Finals in a massive way. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers triumph in the decider attracted massive online interest at herald.co.nz showcasing our growing interest in the sport.
As Americans in New Zealand celebrate their independence on July 4 let's celebrate the best there is about US sport.
10. Home and away uniforms with no sponsors
The NZRU caved a few years ago and bowed to commercial pressures to allow AIG to appear on the All Blacks playing jersey but the Americans haven't let that happen just yet. The NBA will be the first however having agreed to allow a sponsor's logo on their singlets from the 2017-18 season but that will be the first time any of the big four sports have allowed it. Uniforms are traditional in the US - coloured and non-coloured uniforms to indicate home teams from away ones and rarely do you see the number of different strips like we do in the NRL.
9. Pardon the Interruption
Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon's daily sports news show has aired since 2001 and been a staple diet for Kiwis who like their US sport. The two sportscasters discuss and argue the major stories and talking points in sport on ESPN's award-winning show. As natural opposites the two hosts work perfectly in unison and give viewers the best fodder for forming opinions going around. Many spinoffs and similar concepts have been tried the world over but the original PTI is unrivalled.
8. Honest discussion with referees and umpires
Ok maybe a baseball manager yelling and screaming in the face of an umpire isn't such a good look for kids but it sure is entertaining in a train wreck kind of way. Tell me you aren't compelled to look at highlights of the greatest blow-ups at umpires without a smile on your face. As juvenile as it may be you can't help but laugh at the absurd behaviour from kicking dirt to throwing hats and even picking up a base and tossing it in frustration.
7. Fans know what players get paid
In a salary-capped league fans need to know what players are getting paid to know whether their team is getting value for money for them. Every time a basketballer or footballer signs a new deal it is reported what they are getting paid. By doing this fans can better understand whether the deal is good or bad. It creates more buy-in from the fan. If a rugby or rugby league player signs a deal in New Zealand we have no idea what the club is paying or what part of the cap they are spending on that player.
6. Meaningful interviews during and after the game
I get sick of hearing meaningless half time rugby interviews - former players turned television presenters stumbling over a poorly worded question and a clichéd response from the player who is more interested in getting into the sheds to hear from their coach. The US does it better - proper experienced and trained broadcasters asking meaningful questions during and after the game. It makes for a better all-round presentation. ABC and ESPN commentator Doris Burke was superb interviewing the likes of LeBron James during the NBA Finals - she asked intelligent, open-ended questions that provoked a smart reply from the player.
5. The food and drink
OK I admit that I like American fast food but how cool is it getting a bucket of beer or coke to wash it down with? You go to sports stadiums in New Zealand and you queue for half an hour, miss key parts of the action and buy seriously over-priced, half cooked food and beer/soft drink in small plastic bottles or cups. In the US - you don't have to leave your seat in many cases and when you get your drink in a two litre bucket form you don't have to queue that often.
4. Free Agency
In the past fortnight we have seen the NBA and NHL seasons finish but the news cycle doesn't stop with the champion being crowned. Those sports go into free agency where players coming off contract begin to sign deals with new teams. There has been just as much interest in who Kevin Durant will sign with over the weekend than there was when his OKC Thunder side were playing Golden State for a spot in the NBA Finals. Free agency gives the sport more time in the media, captures fans' interest etc and adds to overall product. The NRL allows players to announce they are off to a rival team whilst still playing for their existing one - some times a whole season before they make the move.
3. Fan interaction at games
From Hollywood star Jack Nicholson courtside at Lakers games to film director Spike Lee at Knicks game to the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders - US sport does a great job of entertaining the crowds. Who hasn't laughed watching the former presidents running race at Washington Nationals games or at the sausage mascots race at Milwaukee Brewers games? The waving of coloured towels during late game rallies or the Detroit Red Wings fans throwing an octopus on the ice during games is as much part of the spectacle as the game is itself.
2. The NFL's less is more approach
The NFL is the most profitable sporting competition on the planet and this is achieved despite teams playing just 16 regular season games and a short sudden death playoffs series. The season is shorter than most global team sports and with no international game to consider, the week in week out competition is the only thing that matters to fans and franchises alike. Like a good book or movie the NFL understands you need to leave those consuming it wanting more at its conclusion.
Draft night is often the most exciting night of the year in American sports. Most teams don't make it to the finals series or the Super Bowl so those fans end up looking forward to draft night to see if their team can make a selection that will improve the franchise for the following season. Staged during the off-season draft nights again make sure the sport is getting significant media attention for days and weeks leading up to it. It also ensures that the best talent is spread around all teams in the league.