The San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics have dominated the NBA since the turn of the century — the trio combined to win nine of 11 championships since 2000 and accounted for 12 out of a possible 22 appearances in the NBA Finals in that time — but this year’s NBA playoffs have not been kind to the trio of traditional powers. The top-seeded Spurs were stunned by the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies in six games in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs while the Lakers were swept by the Dallas Mavericks in the Western semis and the Celtics wiped out by the Miami Heat in five games in the Eastern semis.
In their place are four teams — the Heat and Chicago Bulls in the East and the Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder in the West — largely unfamiliar with playing this deep into the season. The mostly new blood is good news for hardcore hoops fans who might have been tired of the steady diet of predictable NBA springs, and it has not been entirely bad news for ticket brokers who were hoping for the third Celtics-Lakers NBA Finals to stoke cross country interest on the resale market.
Jim Holzman, the president of Boston-based Ace Ticket, said the absence of the Celtics and the Lakers has reduced business a bit nationally and that the Eastern Conference matchup is far hotter than the Western one, but that he expects the NBA Finals to be a popular draw no matter who advances.
“When you have Boston and L.A. facing each other, you had two dynasties — east coast vs. west coast — and the whole country was captive,” Holzman told TicketNews. “Dallas-Oklahoma City is just a state away, so it’s kind of hard for someone here in New England or New York or Chicago or the west coast to care about Dallas-Oklahoma City.”
The Bulls-Heat matchup, which the Bulls lead 1-0 entering game two tonight, Wednesday, May 18, certainly has the storylines and national appeal. The Bulls, who finished with the best record in the NBA this year at 62-20 and have the NBA’s MVP in Derrick Rose, have plenty of championship tradition thanks to the six titles the franchise won with Michael Jordan in the 1990s and have remained a popular draw at United Center even though this is their first trip to the conference finals since Jordan’s second retirement following the 1998 season.
And the Heat, which won the NBA title in its lone Finals appearance in 2006 and is making its fourth trip to the conference finals, became the most polarizing team in American sports last July when LeBron James took his talents — and Chris Bosh — to South Beach to team with Dwyane Wade and form, on paper, an unbeatable dynasty. The Heat recovered from a slow start to finish 58-24 and lost just two games in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
As of this afternoon, there were 759 tickets available for tonight’s Heat-Bulls game on StubHub, including dozens of standing room only tickets going for almost double their $70 list price but also dozens of upper level tickets going for less than their $160 face value. There were also hundreds of tickets priced at $900 or more.
“Chicago and Miami have started strong,” Holzman said. “You have Chicago, which obviously has a huge fan base of people getting more excited about the NBA than they have been since the Jordan years. I don’t think they really expected Chicago to be this good, but here they are in the Eastern Conference finals. Miami, interest has been swirling around them because of the people involved with playing on the team.”
The buzz is far less in the West, where two teams with one combined NBA title are batting each other in relative anonymity in one of the most regionalized matchups possible (Dallas and Oklahoma City are separated by just 206 miles). The Mavericks, who lost to the Heat in their lone trip to the Finals in 2006, are in the playoffs for an 11th straight year — a remarkably impressive accomplishment for a franchise that didn’t make the postseason once in the 1990s — but are in the conference finals for just the second time in that span and the third time in 31 seasons overall. This playoff run has been a surprise for the Mavericks, whose top three scorers, as well as point guard Jason Kidd, are all 32 or older.
The Thunder, which has one of the NBA’s most popular young superstars in Kevin Durant, is only in its third season in Oklahoma City — the franchise moved from Seattle following the 2008 season — but the old SuperSonics got to the Western Conference finals six times in 41 years, won the NBA championship in 1979 and lost in Finals in 1978 and 1996.
As of this afternoon, StubHub had 1,344 tickets to game two of the Western finals Thursday, May 19 (the third-seeded Mavericks beat the fourth-seeded Thunder in game one Tuesday, May 17), including 36 upper level seats for less than $100. The cheapest ticket offered at Ticketmaster was $25.
While interest in the Western finals is less thus far, Holzman expects the fans of the winning team to travel in droves to the NBA Finals and for business to pick up dramatically.
“When I think of Dallas and Oklahoma, I think about oil money — and they’re making a ton of money lately” Holzman said with a chuckle. “There’s going to be a lot of people, I imagine [going to the Finals]. Good seats are going to start going for real money.”