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Finals lacked competition, viewers

ABC recently rounded up two pairs of fathers and sons -- Rick and Jon Barry, and Bill and Luke Walton -- to talk about Father's Day, which would have coincided with Game 5 of the NBA Finals . . . except the series ended with a Spurs sweep last night.

The first part was easy, as Luke Walton and Jon Barry extolled the virtues of being the sons of famous dads, with perks that included being ball boys at virtually any game and meeting legends such as Julius Erving, Larry Bird, and Kevin McHale.

Likewise, Bill Walton and Rick Barry said how lucky they were to have sons follow so successfully in their footsteps.

But while the reporters on the conference call might have appreciated the sentiments, it was obvious they wanted to cut to the chase, in light of the fact that when they spoke, there was a real chance there would be no game on Father's Day, a likelihood that became reality last night.

Why was this series so lopsided and such a poor television draw?

The first three games had a 6.1 rating after recording a 7.9 mark last year, a drop of 23 percent, said ABC spokesman Mark Mandel yesterday. Game 2 last Sunday night had only a 5.6 rating. But that was really no surprise, said Mandel.

"It was like a perfect storm, being an uncompetitive game and going against 'The Sopranos' [finale]," said Mandel.

The bright spot, he said, was that even though the games lost in overall audience, they gained in all the male demographics.

Rick Barry acknowledged that the Finals did not show off the best of the NBA.

"It's quite apparent that the Spurs are the superior team," he said. "The Cavaliers are not ready to be NBA champions, although this is a great learning experience. They've done a great job making it to the Finals, but with the Spurs, they're just outclassed. The Spurs are just a better team, offensively and defensively, and when that's the case, you don't have much of a chance of winning. As far as LeBron [James] is concerned, there were tremendous expectations placed on him, but as great as he is, I hope that he gets the proper teaching to be able to maximize his full potential, because this guy is unbelievable."

Jon Barry weighed in on James, too.

"The Cavaliers are not ready for this stage, and LeBron James still has a lot to learn," he said. "Everybody wanted to anoint him as the next Michael Jordan after Game 5 [of the Eastern Conference finals, when James scored 29 of Cleveland's last 30 points in a win over the Pistons]. That was a sensational game, but that was one game and he has a lot to learn, a long way to go. This team has too many holes to be an NBA champion, and the San Antonio Spurs are just simply better than them."

Bill Walton chose to wax philosophical.

"This series reinforces the two things I learned from John Wooden when he recruited me [at UCLA]," he said. "He said that No. 1, you win with your mind, and No. 2, you win not because of how good you are but because of how good your teammates are."

Walton bristled when it was suggested that the Finals might be suffering in the ratings because San Antonio is a small market.

"I'm a fan, and I have watched the NBA all season long, and I have been enthralled by this year's playoffs," he said. "I don't really get into the small-market team theory; I think that the San Antonio Spurs are one of the most compelling stories in all of sports today. When they get dissed for their lack of exciting play, I don't understand that. I mean, Tim Duncan is one of the greatest players ever to play basketball, and you've got superior complementary players, so I think any lack of attention to the Spurs, any lack of attention to the NBA Finals, are more of a reflection of who we are as a people."

Channel 4, which has aired the Patriots' postgame "5th Quarter" for the past three years, announced that it has extended its deal with the team for three seasons.

Susan Bickelhaupt can be reached at