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OAKLAND, Calif. – The news of Kyrie Irving's fractured left kneecap hit the NBA Finals with a fury on Friday. Same story, different player.

Basketball is breaking people, and it's doing so at an alarming rate.

What promised to be one of the league's best season-ending showcases in years is now a complete dud. With the Cavs missing Kevin Love and Irving, not to mention Anderson Varejao, is it over in four games or five? Well, that depends.

At this pace, how many games will the Cavs and Warriors have enough players to finish?

The carnage doesn't begin or end with the Cavs, who now face the virtually impossible task of trying to dethrone the team with the NBA's best record without two of their three best players. Nobody wishes any ill toward anyone on the Golden State side, but it would seem that the Cavs' best (and perhaps only) strategy is just to extend the series as long as possible because you never know who will go down next.

It might be someone on the other side.

From Mike Conley and Tony Allen to Chris Paul and John Wall … from Pau Gasol and Kyle Korver to Love and Irving … the NBA playoffs have been so injury prone as to warrant the formation of a congressional committee. Seriously, who sanctions such barbarism?

TV networks, that's who. It's a $5 billion business, and the money just keeps rolling in. Less than 15 minutes after the Cavs announced Irving's fate, the NBA sent out a press release revealing that the 17.8 million viewers Thursday night amounted to the largest TV audience ever for Game 1 of the Finals on ABC. In about a year, the league's new $24 billion broadcast and digital rights contracts kick in, fueling a dramatic jump in player salaries and owner profits.

But while the worst business practice would be to assault your customers, maiming your star athletes is about as bad as it gets for a pro sports league that relies on their continued athletic performance to generate all that money. The NFL has gotten away with this for years, because most of the serious disabilities don't set in until years after players have retired. Plus, fresh meat walks through the locker-room doors every year after the draft to replace the damaged goods.

When did playing basketball become so dangerous? Well, commissioner Adam Silver said perception isn't exactly reality.

“Our data doesn't go back that far, at least to a point that it's really reliable in terms of games missed,” Silver said. “But at least over a short period of time, we don't see – even versus last year, games missed is not greater than last year. In other words, injury data isn't showing that this was a worse year in terms of injuries than last year.”

The thing is, the 2013-14 season was bad for injuries, too, so what does that comparison really tell us? You had Derrick Rose (torn meniscus, which he tore again this season); Kobe Bryant (fractured knee, which came after he tore his Achilles' tendon late in the '12-'13 season); Tyson Chandler (fractured fibula), Anthony Davis (broken hand), and on and on. In the span of three seasons, the Hawks' Al Horford tore not one, but both of his pectoral muscles.

Beyond the aforementioned postseason injuries, the Blazers lost in the first round without Wesley Matthews (torn Achilles) and the Thunder missed the playoffs because Kevin Durant played only 27 games due to multiple foot surgeries.

“There are more high-profile players seemingly that are injured this year than last year,” Silver said during his annual pre-Finals media address Thursday night, before Irving became the latest victim. “So that always concerns me.”

As well it should. With collective bargaining talks cranking up again as soon as this summer, the debate over who's more replaceable – the owners or the players – will once again come to the forefront. But it seems pretty clear that a business based on sustained athletic performance can't be sustained without, you know, athletic performance.


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