One of the highest compliments one athlete can give to another is, “I’d pay to watch him play.” Last night during the Dallas/Washington NBA summer league game, Chris Webber and his broadcast partner were debating whether John Wall and the Wizards would be a bigger draw this season than the superstar-loaded Miami Heat. All due respect to C-Webb, but that’s not even an argument: Scoring tickets to LeBron, D-Wade and Bosh‘s traveling show this season will be like getting front-row seats at a Lady GaGa show. Who else will be causing sell-outs in arenas when they hit the road? Here are the Top 10 draws for this upcoming season:
10. Amar’e Stoudemire — Finally, Knicks fans across the country will be able to enter a season with their focus solely (or at least partly) on the court. The capital of ineptitude among NBA front offices for the last decade, the Knicks could’ve really upped the ante on the league if they had landed LeBron. Stoudemire isn’t a bad backup plan considering he seems genuinely excited to be in NYC and is ready for the pressure. How will he look in D’Antoni’s system minus Steve Nash? I think there are a few people out there willing to pay to see that.
9. Derrick Rose — Another long-suffering city (face it, after what happened during the 1990s, Bulls fans can’t get excited about middling 45-win teams) that has heightened expectations this year, Chicago always comes out to support the Bulls. Now, they are placing their faith in Derrick Rose to get them into the second round and beyond. As good as Rose is, people are waiting for more. They want to see him put up nightly 25 and 12 and “Dragictize” people every night. It’s only going to get better from here for Rose fans.
8. Carmelo Anthony — Last summer, the focus in Denver for ‘Melo was entirely different: get this Nuggets team past the Lakers and into the Finals. This October will feature an entirely different mood. George Karl is back, but Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen might both be out. Did this team already hit its peak? ‘Melo has the gaudy contract extension waiting on the table for him to sign, but there’s a possibility he might not want to be here for too much longer. He’s already talked about as maybe the best scorer in the game. But fans could be talking about him a lot more during the trade deadline. The bottom line though is that no matter where Anthony plays, people are going to come out to see.
7. Yao Ming — Everyone wants to see Chuck Hayes. Well besides that, the game’s largest man is returning to the Houston lineup after a long fight back from reconstructive foot surgery. The pride of China says he will be 100 percent by training camp, great news for a Houston team that is sure to surprise. Last year without him they went 42-40, eight games behind Oklahoma City for the eighth seed in the West. Yao’s draw will be real and immediate; almost a forgotten man this summer, he will actually be the one courting offers next summer as a free agent. Knowing that will probably be his final chance at a big contract, the soon-to-be 30-year old should have a huge season.
6. Kevin Durant — In all three of KD’s seasons, his scoring average has jumped five points: from 20.3 to 25.3 to a league-leading 30.1 last year. Can you imagine him averaging 35 points a game this year? That’s probably too lofty of a standard, but the career arc of Durant is mysterious. Who really knows how good he can become? At 6-10, shooting jumpers with sling shot ease, this 21-year-old owns a thirst for basketball that is rivaled only by a guy out in L.A. He is on the cusp of great things. No one is going to miss out.
5. John Wall — So far in summer league, Wall has been unpredictable: at once blindingly elusive and making spectacular plays, but also stirring up some really ugly turnovers. The thing is that in a few years no one is going to remember the three or four turnovers a game that Wall will average this year. They are going to remember the highlights and how the number one selection finally gave DC something to get excited about. That unpredictable play and the excitement behind any No. 1 pick will be his draw.
4. Dwight Howard — The Magic finished 5th in road attendance last season, drawing an average of 27,838 fans a game. Attribute that, as well as Orlando’s recent title pushes, to Howard. There’s no guarantee this team ever makes it back to the Finals. Most fans won’t care. They just want to see the premiere big man athlete continue to splatter blocked shots all over the backboards and front rows across the league.
3. Boston’s Big Three — Celtics fans got what they wanted: another shot at the title. And as long as Jesus, the Truth and The (former) Kid are rocking the green, the Celtics will sell out no matter where they go. Not to mention Rajon Rondo is becoming a marketable superstar in his own right. Last year, Boston was third in the League in road attendance, beaten out only by Kobe and LeBron. But piloting the tricky business of mid-30s former superstars is always tough. Sometimes they just lose it without warning and it never comes back. The unknown for the Big Three will continue to draw an audience.
2. Kobe Bryant — The Lakers were the best-selling road team in the League last year. For all of their star power and tradition, Kobe is the one who carries the attention. Without him, the rest of their squad is eerily forgettable, at least in a mainstream context (except for maybe Lamar Odom). Kobe is the draw and was the league’s ultimate chameleon — loved and adored for the same reasons others hate — until “The Decision.” The reigning Finals MVP should have his best season of the past few years after a full summer of rest and the extra motivation he will surely conjure up from this summer’s happenings.
1. Miami Thrice — An obvious proclamation, the hype we are navigating right now is going to be smothering once the season starts. I am envisioning a strong hatred for ESPN and TNT developing alongside the incredible on-floor excitement LeBron, Wade and Bosh are bound to create. It’s going to be a bandwagoner’s dream.