LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and other top NBA draft picks may be ready to challenge the two sports that usually monopolize the attention of male TV viewers during long stretches of the dog days of summer: Major League Baseball and NASCAR.
Although the National Basketball Assn. season doesn’t begin until early November, NBA TV plans to showcase James, Anthony and other highly touted rookies by shoehorning a total of 27 summer league games into a 17-day period from July 9-25.
The 27 games are more than triple the number of summer league NBA games previously sent out to a nationwide TV aud. For the last three years, ESPN2 has scheduled seven games a summer, with ESPN covering one additional match.
A spokesman for the sports cabler said it had no problem passing on the games this year because very few people watched them, at least in part due to many of the contests airing in the daytime on weekends, when the number of male viewers tends to be sparse. By contrast, NBA TV will place 13 of the games in primetime.
The NBA can’t offer any guarantees that the highly trumpeted rookies will be in the lineup for the games. But traditionally the teams jockey to get their first-round draft picks signed right away so they can begin competing against high-level talent in advance of the start of the season.
For example, in the opening day of a July 9 doubleheader, the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Kaman (the No. 6 pick) should be going head to head against the Toronto Raptors’ Chris Bosh (the No. 4 pick).
And the first game of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who drafted James at No. 1, will take place against the New Jersey Nets in primetime July 16. The high school grad has attracted more publicity than any other No. 1 draft pick since Earvin “Magic” Johnson two decades ago. Three other Cleveland games are on the schedule.
Denver, which drafted Anthony at No. 3, will show up twice on the NBA TV sked, the first time July 22, against the Chicago Bulls, which took Kirk Hinrich at No. 7.
NBA TV hasn’t signed any deals with cable operators, so NBA fans will need a dish to get the summer games: NBA TV’s carriage deals are with DirecTV and EchoStar.
However, with a computer hooked up to the Net, people will be able to receive the games through a subscription package via streaming video, thanks to an NBA deal with Real Networks.
Announcers for the summer games are Spero Dedes, Matt Devlin and Joel Meyers on play by play. The analysts are Bill Raftery, Sam Vincent, Steve Jones and Stu Lantz.