The NBA playoffs continue this week with the Eastern and Western Conference Finals entering the homestretch.
From them, the NBA Finals combatants will emerge for a best-of-seven joust on ABC beginning next week.
ESPNDallas.com is covering the hometown Mavericks’ somewhat surprising run to a potential Finals berth. Can the Mavericks, who play Game 4 Monday night against the host Oklahoma City Thunder on ESPN (9 p.m. ET), claim their second Western Conference title in five seasons?
In the spirit of Front Row’s previous visits with our ESPNLocal affiliates, we’ve asked ESPNDallas.com Managing Editor Barry Vigoda to share a look at how the site covers the Mavericks.
Tuesday, we’ll visit with ESPNChicago.com ME Keith Sgariglia for insights on that site’s Chicago Bulls’ coverage.
FR: Have you noticed a greater appetite for Mavericks stories even before their surprising conference semifinals sweep of the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers?
Vigoda: There has been a healthy appetite for Mavericks coverage for many years, but there was a little bit of a lull late this season, when the team was playing poorly. It was almost as if fans didn’t want to get their hearts broken again with a quick exit in the postseason. But once the team won the final two games of the Portland [first-round] series, Mavs fans were right back into it as much as they’ve ever been. The sweep of the Lakers just brought it to another level.
FR: How do you balance coverage of the Mavericks with the almost insatiable appetite for the Cowboys, the Texas Rangers’ newfound success, the Dallas Stars, Texas football, etc.?
Vigoda: With the tradition the Dallas Cowboys have built in this market over the last 50 years, the Mavericks, Rangers and Stars could all win multiple titles for the next decade and our coverage of any Cowboys training camp will still garner more eyeballs. None of the other teams have the world-wide following the Cowboys have built — although the Mavs and Rangers might be on their way. We are devoting a ton of resources to covering the postseason runs of the Mavericks, as we did last October when the Rangers made their run to the World Series. It’s important to our audience and we understand that. We won’t hold back on these kind of moments. They become special to a city or region, so we want to help take our audience on that ride with the teams.
FR: If the Mavericks advance to the NBA Finals, which Eastern Conference team seems the more intriguing matchup? The Bulls have all that history and a new superstar, but the Heat have two superstars and
the legacy of beating the Mavs in six games in 2006 for the NBA title.
Vigoda: We’ve heard the Mavericks would match up better against the Heat from many of the experts. We’ve also heard the opposite from other experts. As for intrigue, it’s hard to say, but I’d bet Mavs fans would like to avenge the 2006 loss to the Heat. That collapse — and I don’t think there’s any other way to classify it [the Mavericks blew a 2-0 series lead and a substantial Game 3 edge] — still hurts fans to this day. Dirk Nowitzki also recently said he thinks about it all the time and it won’t be erased until the Mavs win a title.
FR: What was Dallas like last summer and fall with the Rangers’ run to the World Series? See a similar fervor growing with the Mavericks?
Vigoda: It’s funny, because during that Rangers’ run, we kept hearing that the Rangers are overtaking the Mavericks for No. 2 sports franchise in this market. The Rangers had been down for a while and the Mavericks just kept winning 50 games every year. I’d call it about dead even right now. The Rangers are still playing well, but certainly all the buzz right now is about the Mavs. We’ll have to see how the rest of the postseason plays out. There is enough excitement here right now for both franchises’ fan bases to enjoy the success.
FR: Where were you, Barry, when the Mavericks seemed on their way to the 2006 NBA title against the Heat? Can you compare the atmosphere then and now?
Vigoda: I was here in 2006 working in the newspaper world during that crazy postseason run. The atmosphere was tremendous back then. It was the first time the team had made the NBA Finals and Dallas-Fort Worth really seemed to rally around that team. The two things I remember most from that series were actually not on-the-court occurrences. [Then Mavs coach and former ESPN analyst] Avery Johnson’s changing the team hotel in Miami and a way-too-early leak of a parade route overshadowed the performance of [Heat star and Finals MVP] Dwyane Wade for me. But the excitement this year might be even better. It’s been building since the Portland series. The sweep of the Lakers and Dirk’s incredible performance in Game 1 have the Metroplex seemingly watching every storyline and every free throw of this series. It’s a lot of fun covering it and having our Dallas ESPN radio station 103.3 FM carrying all the games makes it even more special. ESPN Radio here has been tied to this team for 10 seasons. It’s nice to see their coverage at the forefront, too.