My last experience at an NBA game was 2011 when I saw uber-exciting rookie Blake Griffin and the then lackluster Clippers steamroll the Detroit Pistons at the Palace. It had been some time since I visited the Palace, but the sparse crowd and apathy was shocking. Had you told the childhood me that this was an NBA crowd I would have laughed.
I recall watching the Pistons just prior to their glory days with the Bad Boys playing a not quite there yet Trailblazers team with about 30,000 screaming fans at the Silver Dome in a game that didn't really mean that much. Kiki Vandeweghe went off for 40+ points and Vinnie Johnson had a big game off the bench and despite my crappy seats, the game was riveting the entire time.
Now? The mere mention of the NBA Finals brings responses like, "I don't care who wins, as long as it's not Miami". Interestingly, despite the Van Gundy and other NBA mouthpiece claims that LeBron has been unfairly targeted, it seems like this is the only asset the NBA has outside of hardcore fans right now - the villains in Miami.
So while apathy over the product seems to grow, the opportunity here seems very old school WWF to me. Embrace being the bad guy. Whether the Heat wins a championship this year or ever, with the nucleus they have they'll be in the hunt for titles for the foreseeable future, and one way to bring back some popularity would be to go all Iron Sheik and just own being the bad guys. Local fans would become more devout, road fans would completely lose their minds when Miami came to town and the whole league would likely unify against a common enemy.
If I'm David Stern, my offseason meetings would include weekly film sessions with LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh going over classic NWO clips on YouTube. Yes, NBA, it's come to this, you need to steal marketing ideas from a fake sport. Or perhaps Vince McMahon can start up the XBA and bring back Laimbeer and Mahorn...