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Thrilling Playoffs Usher In New Golden Age For The NBA

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The NBA is on a roll. Last weekend, the league had its highest-rated playoff game in 18 years with game seven of the finals between the Cavaliers and Warriors. Cleveland finally has a champion and a star, LeBron James, to love. And even though they lost, the Warriors had a record-breaking season and another squeaky clean, super-popular star in Steph Curry. A new deal kicks in next year that will eventually almost triple television revenues. And for the most part, players have kept themselves out of trouble on and off the court. So is this a new golden age for the NBA? For that answer, we turn to Chris Mannix. He's a columnist for The Vertical from Yahoo Sports. Welcome to the program.

CHRIS MANNIX: Glad to be here.

CORNISH: So are things really as rosy as I've just laid out, or is this basically hyperbole in the afterglow of, like, a pretty exciting NBA final?

MANNIX: No, I think it's pretty good. You have entertaining basketball. Revenue is certainly skyrocketing and will continue to skyrocket in the coming years. You've got identifiable stars. You've got small markets that are thriving. If you look at the teams that were in the final four - Cleveland, Oklahoma City. I guess if you're looking for a dark cloud potentially looming, it is the summer of 2017 when both the NBA and the players union can opt out of the collective bargaining agreement and potentially get into a showdown that could lead to another work stoppage. But other than that, the NBA is kind of rolling along right now.

CORNISH: Is that threat because the league is doing so well financially? Are there some other figures there that can give us a sense of the financial picture?

MANNIX: Well, I mean, the TV money is the biggest part. You know, the new television deal is about to send billions to the coffers. Attendance is up across the league. Local TV deals - which are separate from the national TV deal - they're up across the league. Financially, it's hard - it would be hard to find a situation where it's in bad shape. I mean, the last time they had negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement there were, you know, probably half dozen to a dozen owners that could say they were losing money. Now, as we head into the summer of 2017, the NBA cannot say any owners are losing money, so it's a very rosy picture out there.

CORNISH: Yesterday in the NBA draft, 26 of the 60 players chosen were international players. The number-one pick Ben Simmons is from Australia. But there were also players from Europe, Africa, from China. What does that say to you?

MANNIX: Well, it's the globalization of the NBA, and David Stern, the former commissioner, made globalization a priority under his watch and a league that once had, you know, a handful of elite international players - there were more than 100 players last season that were foreign-born playing in the NBA. That number continues to grow, and it will likely grow next year as well.

CORNISH: And lastly, commissioner Adam Silver - what does this reflect about his tenure so far?

MANNIX: Well, I mean, he's kind of picked up where David Stern left off in a lot of ways - you know, Adam Silver's mark is really going to be made in the summer of 2017. And I can't emphasize how important that summer is enough. There's so much money out there and there are so many players that feel like they deserve a bigger piece of the pie. In 2011, they got absolutely clobbered in the collective bargain agreement negotiations. They went from having 57 percent of the total split of money to 50 percent.

Now they're going to seek some of that back. Adam Silver is known as a great negotiator. He had a terrific relationship with the players the last time around. If he is able to navigate these choppy waters over the next 12, 13 months and get the NBA to another collective bargaining agreement without a work stoppage, that is going to do a lot for the NBA as it continues to try to grow.

CORNISH: That's Chris Mannix. He writes for The Vertical at Yahoo Sports. Thanks for talking with us.

MANNIX: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.