AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - It sounds like something out of the Yogi Berra book of quotations: Everybody is talking about how no one is interested in the NBA Finals.
This is a series full of contradictions, and none is bigger than the one offered up by the fans and observers who have railed against the decline of the league and who are taking the San Antonio Spurs-Detroit Pistons Finals on a course for the second-lowest ratings in more than 20 years.
Any NBA hater out there can quickly cite a list of reasons for his hatred as long as Ben Wallace's Afro and never passes up a chance to do so. And speaking of Wallace, there isn't a better example in the Finals, much less the entire league, of what the haters say the league desperately lacks. Yet Wallace's presence isn't enough to get viewers watching or fans and critics talking about the Finals in any positive way.
You want unrelenting defense, a willingness to do the dirty work, an unselfishness that lets him thrive without having to score, a desire that never quits and always sparks a fire in his teammates? Nah, apparently you don't.
Just like you don't want a two-time Most Valuable Player and two-time champion who's quiet, undemonstrative, unadorned with tattoos or jewelry, and nicknamed "The Big Fundamental." The Spurs' Tim Duncan avoids attention whenever he can, and so-called fans oblige him by turning away from him in droves.
Because they have more pressing issues on their minds - tonight, the Spurs and Pistons try to break their 2-2 series tie in Game 5 at The Palace of Auburn Hills - some of the players and coaches don't dwell much on how this drama is playing on the big stage.
"I don't even pay attention to it," insisted the Pistons' Richard Hamilton, who also embodies a trait that many lament is missing in today's players, a throwback-style, mid-range offensive game that doesn't rely on dunks, three-pointers or both.
Others, however, are perplexed by the obvious contradiction. Both coaches, the Spurs' Gregg Popovich and the Pistons' Larry Brown, have weighed in for the entire series about why it is perceived to lack buzz, and both have questioned the very definition of "star." If the likes of Duncan, Wallace, Hamilton, Manu Ginobili and Chauncey Billups don't fit the definition, they've implied, then you need to check your definition.
"The funny thing is," Brown said Friday afternoon, "I get calls all the time from college coaches and friends of mine, and they are trying to drum into some of their kids, `Do what you do best and understand about the Bruce Bowens and the Ben Wallaces and the fact that they are playing on championship-caliber teams and have an effect on the game and making good money.'"
Popovich, meanwhile, noted how in tune he is with his players and vice versa, even now with the Spurs having been throttled twice in a row to squander a 2-0 series lead. Why is that, he was asked. "They're great guys. I think it's on them," he replied.
Yes, players for both teams show, and have shown, great respect for their coaches. No back-stabbing, no revolts; no putting themselves, their contracts and their demand for shots ahead of the ultimate goal. That doesn't sound like the NBA so many bitterly and loudly describe lately.
Granted, the four consecutive routs in the Finals is a new experience, but those who crave defense have nothing to pick apart with these games. And for those who cringe at the perceived lack of offense, the Pistons put up 96 and 102 points in their two wins, with Game 4 featuring a Finals record-low four Pistons turnovers and seven Pistons in double figures.
"At this time of year, it's not about the flash," said Bowen, in a sense the Spurs' version of Wallace, someone who can change a game without scoring a point because of his defense and intangibles. "You have teams right now that are team-oriented; they're not focused on one guy or two guys. It's the team, and that's the beauty of this.
"But unfortunately," he continued, "some people can't appreciate that like the true basketball people."
So is that it? Is there just a shortage of "true basketball people" in America and a surplus of fakers who think they want some version of a "pure" game but have other agendas in mind? Those who take their complaints into the land of euphemism, toward "bling" and "thugs" and "street ball," who pine for old-school, team-oriented play, chest passes instead of chest-thumping, "and-one" instead of "And 1," can't justify tuning out the Finals en masse.
Sorry, you won't find an answer here. The contradictions are not just confounding, they're downright annoying.
It's a wonder the players and coaches here don't just throw their hands up and scream, "What do you want from us?"
San Antonio vs. Detroit
Best of seven; *-if necessary
All games on chs. 2, 7
(Series tied 2-2)
Game 1: San Antonio, 84-69
Game 2: San Antonio, 97-76
Game 3: Detroit, 96-79
Game 4: Detroit, 102-71
Today: at Detroit, 9 p.m.
Tuesday: at San Antonio, 9 p.m.
*Thursday: at San Antonio, 9 p.m.