Why is the 76ers game the Detroit Pistons only national TV appearance?

Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris (12) passes the ball past Detroit Pistons forward Jerami GrantCredit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris (12) passes the ball past Detroit Pistons forward Jerami GrantCredit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Pistons are only in a nationally televised game once all season. That it is in early January, at the Philadelphia 76ers, seems like an odd and random choice for the only appearance.

There are two NBA realities during the season. One is the actual league, where 30 teams play against each other for playoff berths, draft seeding and the like. The other reality is the ‘TNT/ESPN/ABC‘ world.

This is the NBA that people see on TV if they do not have a local club. It is the world where LeBron James, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Steph Curry are almost always playing, or teams expected to be at the top of the standings like Phoenix, Clippers and Boston are in action.

And the decision on who is in, and out, can be quite arbitrary.

When Zion Williamson entered the league in 2018, the league made a concerted effort to promote him as ‘The Next Big Thing’ (something they chose not to do with Cade Cunningham). Suddenly, the national TV airwaves were filled with Pelicans games. It was awful for NBA fans, as the team was terrible and Williamson was injured for many of them and did not even play.

(And Detroit fans had to watch Stan Van Gundy coach again)

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Ironically, the Pelicans are now a pretty decent team, and Williamson is supposed to be healthy. Yet, New Orleans will only be on national TV 11 times, which is just middle of the pack.

Note: We are not including games on NBA TV.. Many cable systems do not carry it and all it does is pick up the home team’s feed. And it is owned by the league, so every team kind of has to get a few shots. We do enjoy Isiah Thomas commentary on it, though.

Promote Cade Cunningham and the Detroit Pistons? Nope

There has been a lot of buzz after the great off-season the Pistons have had. Many use the phrase ‘League Pass favorite’ as a way of saying that Detroit will be interesting to the hard core fan, but they are not ready for a mainstream audience.

Apparently, the league office and TV networks agree. With the official schedule out, the Pistons have one nationally televised game: Tuesday, January 10 at the Philadelphia 76ers on TNT (Bet Charles Barkley will have nice things to say about Isaiah Stewart).

According to Benyam Kidane of The Sporting News, Detroit is one of eight NBA teams who will have just one national game (none have zero, all at least one). The Wizards have two (guess the league not banking on Bradley Beal) and Charlotte just three (LaMelo’s dad won’t be happy with that).

So about one-third of the league will be largely unseen by the vast majority of fans.

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Now, the networks have flexibility built into their contracts. If Detroit suddenly gets hot and is 25-7 or something, or the Warriors get a bunch of injuries like two years ago and become one of the worst teams in the league, they can switch things. But this shows you their mind set.

The puzzling question is: if being shown just once why choose this one particular for Detroit?

Why the 76ers vs. Detroit Pistons for national TV?

Personal note: I have lived in Philadelphia and seen many a Pistons-76ers battle there and, frankly, there is no frothing at the mouth hatred of Detroit, and it does not take much to get Sixers fans frothing.

This appears to be just another game on the schedule, so why pick this one for a national audience?

Looking at the NBA schedule for January 10, the other two 7:30 p.m. games are Oklahoma City at Miami and Charlotte at Toronto. Decent games, but TNT not exactly by-passing Boston vs. Milwaukee.

Seeing James Harden go against Cade Cunningham will be kind of fun. The old master and the young gun. From a Detroit perspective, seeing Killian Hayes guard Harden will be interesting.

But, if talking rivalries, a game with Boston or division rival Milwaukee would seem more appropriate. Surprised Detroit’s game in Paris, France against Chicago is only on NBA TV, would think a network would like a weekday game at 3 p.m (ET)., do not get many chances.

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It simply appears like the TV execs went ‘We have to put on Detroit once, their playing Embiid and Harden, nothing else stands out in that slot, January 10 it is’. Hopefully, the Pistons play will force the national TV networks to flex them some more games as the season goes along..