At coffee shops and bagel joints across South Florida Wednesday, two major gripes more or less summed up the region’s general sense of malaise:
1. Does the Heat have anyone who can cover Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook?
2. Why the heck do they start these NBA Finals games so late?
Mornings after any Heat playoff loss are sour in these parts, but Wednesday’s mood was particularly bleak. Sleep deprivation piled on top of disappointment and anger has that effect.
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Tip-off for Miami’s Game 1 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder wasn’t until after 9 p.m., and the affair didn’t end until nearly 11:40 — way past the bedtime for people like Bob Dorfman and his wife Amy. Bob is a business owner whose alarm clock goes off before dawn — and who needs a full seven hours’ worth of shut eye.
“You feel it the next day,” a sluggish Dorfman said as he picked at his breakfast sandwich at Mo’s Bagels. “Even starting the game a half-hour earlier would help.”
Added Amy: “They want to accommodate the West Coast audience. But it makes it tough for us.”
That’s the trouble with living in a sprawling country. If the NBA would schedule the games to begin in the 8 o’clock hour, it would be great for South Florida, but the league would essentially write off Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Seattle for at least the first half. That’s an unacceptable prospect for the suits at ABC.
Hard to argue with the strategy, considering the results. Wednesday’s Game 1 averaged 13.2 million viewers for an overnight national rating of 11.8 , the highest viewership for a Finals opener in the network’s history. Total viewership peaked with a 14.1 rating around 11:30 p.m., said Ben Cafardo, a spokesman with ESPN, which runs ABC’s sports operation.
In Miami, more than 3 of every 10 households tuned into the game — even with the late start.
If you think these games used to have an earlier tip-off, you are right. As recently as 2003, all NBA Finals showdowns started at 8:30 Eastern time. Improved viewership tracking has presumably taught the networks that a later start means more eyeballs.
“We’re trying to cater to everyone.” Cafardo said.
(It could be worse. Back before Bird and Magic and Michael Jordan raised the sport to a new level of popularity, many NBA playoffs weren’t even broadcast live, but tape-delayed until after the local news.)
The impact of today’s start times for the next two weeks: eyes will be a little blearier, productivity a little lower, and the roads a little more dangerous (if that’s even possible) in Miami, says neurology professor Salim Dib, member of the UHealth Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
Most people need between 7 1/2 and 8 1/2 hours of sleep per night, Dib said. When we get less than that for an extended period of time (like, say, during the two-month-long NBA playoffs), there’s an accumulative sleep debt that has a real effect on health.
“There’s definitely risk of mood changes, irritability, reduced cognitive process, poor decision making, increased errors, and a higher risk getting in a car accident,” Dib said.
Plus, making a habit of falling asleep later than normal can reset your internal clock, making it harder to go to bed at the appropriate time once the games end.
For Darryl Feinman, a 53-year-old boat captain whose day usually begins around 1 a.m. (because fishing is best early in the morning), playoff games mean many of his nights are sleepless.
“It’s ridiculous,” Feinman said. “How could you want your kid to stay up and watch the game? It should be at 8, so it’s a little early for the West Coast, and a little late for us.”
But Henri Pety, who waited in line for a bite to eat at Senor Cafe in Hollywood Wednesday morning, was just fine with the late starting time. Expecting a Heat loss, he went to bed before it ended.
“I think it’s great,” Pety said. “There’s no traffic in the mornings after a Heat game. I can get on [Interstate] 95 and just fly.”