Stickin’ it to the NBA

Benjamin Nopper, Section Editor

I know I’m arguing the marginal case here. I wager that if you surveyed 10 students at the high school, nine of them would say they prefer the NBA to the NHL.

Contrary to popular opinion, I find the NHL to be a far more entertaining sport to watch for a variety of reasons.

There is no denying that the NBA is a star-driven league. The worst team in the league can be instantly transformed into a perennial championship contender by simply acquiring one high-octane player.

This is certainly exciting if you happen to be one of the select few teams that LeBron James or Kevin Durant chooses in free agency every other year, but if you’re just a casual fan hoping to watch competitive gameplay, this is clearly the wrong sport for you. Sure, people can’t get enough of the signature shoes, gimmicky commercials, or excessive paraphernalia, but these are precisely the aspects of the NBA which I find to be the most repulsive.

Players wield way too much power in the league, and their personal reputations completely undermine any accomplishments of their teams. But then again, the “Super Team” era of the NBA (where star players opt out of contracts for their original team in favor of forming an all-star team for a different organization) demonstrates that the entire value of “team” is receding faster than LeBron’s hairline. Did I forget to mention that the NBA Finals have featured the same two teams for the past four years? Where’s the fun in that?!

On the other hand, the NHL offers a far more competitive palette of teams. Every year, new teams make the playoffs, and new teams win championships.

Take a look at the Vegas Golden Knights a year ago. In their inaugural season, they managed to reach the Stanley Cup Final and were a tremendous Cinderella story throughout the year. These are the kinds of stories sports are all about—fans should desire new and exciting competition rather than monotonous slugfests year after year.

Another dynamic to consider is all 18 skaters (and the goalie) on an NHL team play an integral role in the outcome every game, whereas in the NBA, the same five players are essentially relied on for the entire game.

The NBA has its stars while the rest of the team rides the pine the whole game, but the most unlikely heroes can arise in the NHL in the biggest moments. In fact, each player’s shift lasts about 45 seconds before they are replaced with fresh legs, so opportunities are plentiful for under-the-radar players to establish themselves.

Furthermore, the NHL gameplay is far more exciting than that of the NBA.

Look, I get it, there isn’t a whole lot of scoring in the NHL (2.5 goals for each team per game), especially in comparison to the NBA (110.6 points for each team per game). But this is precisely the beauty of the NHL.

Every time a goal is scored, players and fans enter a frenzy of celebration because every goal is at a premium and could very well be the deciding factor of a game. Meanwhile, in the NBA, where more than 200 total points are scored each game, scoring is regular and less exciting.

Even in the the scoring droughts of an NHL game, the average fan can still be entertained when a goalie makes an acrobatic save, a defenseman sacrifices his body to block a 100 MPH rocket shot, or a forward dishes a vicious body check to free the puck. In the NBA, if a ball doesn’t go in the basket, the shooter simply missed his shot–there’s not a whole lot more to it.

The nonstop action in the NHL occurs with very few stoppages, unlike the NBA, where there is an average of 20 fouls per game, and the ball regularly goes out of bounds and impedes the pace of play.

Another thing to consider is that, well, hockey is actually a physical sport.

In the NHL, there are more than 40 hits per game, there is pushing and shoving, there is aggressive defense, and there is fighting. In the NBA, defense is nonexistent. You can literally touch someone and be called for a foul.

Furthermore, the NBA regularly issues fouls for players who disagree with the referees, and in some cases, fouls are even called on the coaches. This ridiculousness strips the game of its passion and fosters passive gameplay.

One last comment on the overall gameplay: if a team in the NBA is attempting to surmount a comeback, the only way to do so is by fouling the other team repeatedly in the final two minutes and hoping the other team misses its free throws. Fortunately in the NHL, these gimmicky strategies are not present. In the final two minutes of a hockey game, the team that is trailing will pull its goalie in favor of adding an extra attacker. The result? Absolute chaos and excitement as one team tries to tie the game with a man advantage while the other team tries to seal the deal by putting the puck in the empty net.

The reality is, I would much rather see the best players leaving everything they have out on the court/ice in the final minutes instead of watching a perpetual series of million-dollar athletes bricking shots that seventh graders practice in their driveway. I’m looking at you, DeAndre Jordan.