Last weekend marked the return of NFL preseason football, something we did not get all last year due to COVID-19. The start of the preseason is traditionally met with fanfare ("football is back!") immediately followed by dismissal ("this isn't real football anyway."). While baseball and the WNBA are usually the only sports competition for viewers, there is another event only recently underway: the NBA Summer League. Like the NFL preseason, the Summer League is often discredited for being a watered-down product compared to the NBA regular season. While these things are true, these events do still have value and can be worth watching for sports fans.
First we need to examine why people feel these events are not worth watching but will glue their eyes to the screen for regular season games. Why is this not real basketball or football? Well their answer would probably be that it's not real players participating. That is both true and false. On Tuesday afternoon the Miami Heat defeated the Memphis Grizzlies by 3 in a 2OT thriller. Why did every basketball fan not hear about this? Because Jimmy Butler and Ja Morant weren't playing. Although the team names were slapped on the uniforms, a large majority of these players are not even signed to their team's active roster. Roughly half of the players participating in the NFL preseason will no longer be with that team when roster cutdowns are finalized in three weeks. This point is understandable, and whether or not it's valid depends on how deep your passions for watching the sport runs.
At the end of the day, these are still professional athletes. They possess enough skills to warrant at the very least a tryout. The idea that Summer League players of guys playing in the fourth quarters of preseason games just dudes off the street is far from the truth. They trained endlessly for this moment and earned a rare opportunity. And you know why that makes them compelling? Because they're going to try hard for that spot. All these dudes have something to prove and that can give way to entertaining performances. Although the fans might not be watching, the coaches are.
Another argument against watching exhibition games is "the coaches aren't trying to win. They're just evaluating the players' skills." While most coaches would disagree with you on the first part, the latter claim definitely holds truth. The NBA Finals or Super Bowl winners are not determined by how they performed in the Summer League or preseason, but they couldn't have gotten there without them. They needed those exhibition games to find diamonds in the rough. Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo played twice in the Summer League, something rare for a first-round pick and unheard of for a franchise cornerstone. But Giannis wasn't seen as a franchise cornerstone then. He improved greatly in his second season, helping the Bucks go from picking Top 2 in the Draft to the Playoffs.
So if you find exhibitions uninteresting because the teams aren't necessarily trying to win, don't watch them through that lense. Watch the players instead of the teams. You just might see some really good football.