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As NBA Finals keep coming back to Texas, Florida, basketball grows in football states

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MIAMI - Basketball is taking centre stage in the football-crazed states of Texas and Florida — and not just this month.

The NBA Finals have been held in one, or both states eight times in the last 10 years. And with youngsters seeing more basketball than ever, maybe more of them won't want to grow up to be Cowboys.

The San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat, who were set to play Game 4 on Thursday night, have been two of the NBA's best for years. So have the Dallas Mavericks, who twice reached the finals, and the Orlando Magic also played in the 2009 finals.

Heat star Chris Bosh, a Dallas native, believes that could have an impact on some kids.

"Maybe they'll say, 'Hey, I was watching the Spurs, the Mavericks, the Heat, the Magic, and I wanted to play basketball,'" Bosh said.

Some have done just that.

According to the Florida High School Athletic Association's participation surveys, there were nearly 900 more boys basketball players in the state last year than in 2004-05. And in Texas, the National Federation of State High School Associations reported that there are 55 more high schools with boys basketball teams than there were five years ago.

Despite the bump, NBA players form those states concede football will always be king.

"Still football states, especially for high school football. ... Great college football teams, but for some reason it's turned into a lot of great basketball players coming from the state of Texas and teams have been playing well," said Miami's Rashard Lewis, a high school star in Houston who played for the Magic in 2009.

The Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins are two of the power franchises in the NFL, even without the success they long enjoyed. Throw in the Florida State-Florida-Miami college trio, and teams such as Texas and Texas A&M, and it's tall mountain for basketball to climb.

But Lewis pointed to the success of the Spurs and Rockets, a potential finals contender, and the Mavericks, who have somewhat escaped the Cowboys' considerable shadow by becoming a post-season regular.

"Without question, interest in the Mavs has grown, but it's hard to say the source," owner Mark Cuban said. "I hope it's been our ability to connect to fans and offer great value, entertainment and great basketball."

Bosh tried football.

He was an eighth grader, and with his height and athleticism could have been a dream target for any quarterback. But there was one problem.

"I got hit and I said, 'This is not for me,'" Bosh said. "That was in practice. I got hit, and that's when I found out that the ground is hard, too. And it was hot, and I said, 'Man, I don't want to play this anymore.'"

With so much basketball in June lately, kids in Texas and Florida are being exposed to a different option — without getting hit.

The Lakers-Celtics finals in 2008 and 2010 were the only ones since 2005 that didn't have a Texas or Florida stop on the itinerary. David Stern had said that as a young commissioner, the NBA Finals to him meant Boston and Los Angeles, because at least one was an annual destination after he took over in 1984.

For new Commissioner Adam Silver, the finals may have an entirely different meaning.

"To me, the NBA Finals means the best basketball in the world and I've been back to this community several times," the new commissioner said earlier in the series in San Antonio. "And it's also about well-run franchises and there's no doubt that that's what the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat represent in this league."

Both have become must-see entertainment in communities that long ago would have looked elsewhere.

"The one ancillary benefit of having a team like this for four years in South Florida is you start to slowly change the culture of basketball in Miami," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "It's a great sports town. When I first got down here it was only a football city, but now you're starting to see a legion of kids and young generation of NBA fans that weren't necessarily here 15, 20 years ago."

Bosh finished his one football season and left the gridiron for good. For the past four years, he's been a fixture in the NBA Finals.

"I think a lot of kids will be watching this, especially in Texas and Florida, and that'll encourage them to get in the gym a little more and not only think I have to play football anymore," Bosh said. "Maybe basketball can be an option, too, and I think probably we won't really see the effects until a little later in the next generation and see how many players continue to come out of Florida and Texas. "

___

Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Briancmahoney

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