Dubsism

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Does Adam Silver Want To Kill Parity in the NBA? I Really Hope So…

As we are in the midst of NFL training camps and the bulk of the pre-season is just around the corner, we are on the verge of being flung head-long into six months with every Sunday filled with the NFL’s long-stated, long-engineered goal of “parity.” The NFL is a league which actively seeks to ensure that all teams are essentially the same in terms of quality; the reason being is the belief that it is good for business to have a league which has as many teams as possible remaining in play-off contention as long as possible.

At first, that sounds like a good idea, but it has a problem.  In order to enforce “parity,” there’s only one direction you can go.  I addressed this in a recent installment of “Ask J-Dub” when asked to make some predictions about the upcoming NFL season.

The vast majority of teams will have a record between 5-11 an 11-5.  At first, that looks like a simple “standard deviation” argument, but if you look at it in terms of the number of games won by each team, this league doesn’t have many really good or bad team; it has a lot of mediocrity.

Since every game which doesn’t end in a tie has to have a winner and a loser, a 16-game schedule means the median number of wins for a team would be 8; the value at which 50% of the range is greater and 50% is less.  In a non-skewed distribution, that would would mean the standard deviation from the median would be three; meaning 50% of teams should be within three wins of 8…in other words, half the league should have records between 5-11 and 11-5.  If you do the math, that also should mean 25% of the league should have records of 12-4 or better, and 25% should be 4-12 or worse

But it doesn’t.  In fact, 2016 saw the NFL fielded 24 teams with records between 5-11 and 11-5. That’s 75%.  That also means the NFL only had four teams 12-4 or above and 4 with 4 or less wins.  That’s 12.5% for each category.

The whole idea behind the NFL’s goal of “parity” is to keep more teams alive in the play-off races, which is obviously working.  The problem is it creates a lot of pretty bland football.  If you doubt that, ask yourself a question. Wouldn’t the NFL be much more interesting if you had more team worth watching?

Nobody wants a league full of 8-8 clubs.  Except the NFL…which is why it sucks.

This is where the NBA discussion starts. Since this year’s NBA Finals, there was lot of noise about “super-teams” and how they supposedly aren’t good for basketball.  But as an article on Shadow League points out, that “super-team” Final was a ratings bonanza.

The discussion around the NBA super team has never been as hot as it has been since Golden State first signed Kevin Durant and ran through the League with a regular season record of 67-15 and a post-season record of 16-1 en route to securing its second title in three years.

Fans have taken sides on this issue. Some (Warriors’ fans) think it’s great while others (every other fan) feel it hurts the competition and that its just not fair. But today we learned that the super team generated huge television ratings during the Finals, giving Commissioner Silver the proof and ammunition he needed to put an emphasis on creating more super teams, further distancing himself from former Commissioner Stern while continuing to cement his vision upon the League.

For purposes of offering my NBA bona fides, I’m a Lakers fan from even before the “Showtime” era of the 80’s who is now transplanted in the Midwest.  The Indiana Pacers are the team I see every night in my local market, so I had a seat on the floor for the recent caterwauling about the Paul George trade. That situation was the genesis of a statement which pissed-off all of the half-dozen Pacers’ fans on the planet, because it’s an undeniable truth as to why George wanted out of Indiana.

The Pacers’ have no real fans…Think about it.  Basketball is the national sport of Indiana; there’s a reason the Pacers broke out those “Hickory” uniforms from the movie “Hoosiers.”  You would think that an NBA franchise in the Hoosier state would have a dedicated fan base, but they don’t.  Instead, the Pacers have the classic “fair-weather” fan problem.

Right now, there’s a guy out there getting ready to sharpen his electronic crayon to tell me he doesn’t go to Pacer games because the they don’t put a competitive team on the floor.  Don’t be that guy, because he’s exactly who I’m talking about. That guy is not a “real” fan. Real fans show up. Real fans fly their colors. Real fans can express their displeasure, real fans can bitch and moan as much they can celebrate, but when push comes to shove, real fans don’t abandon their teams.

That statement can be made about a lot of teams in more than just the NBA, and it drives to the heart of the “parity” problem.  The only way you can have real “parity” is to enforce mediocrity.  The NFL proves the point that mediocrity helps nothing.

Both the NBA and the NFL hit their zenith in terms of the quality of their product in the 1980’s when both leagues had a distinct set of “super-teams.” The “bread and butter” of truly successful sports leagues is having team people tune in to see.  Vince McMahon has a house plumbed with hot and cold running money because he understood that love ’em or hate ’em, success is all about generating interest.  That’s why pro wrestling lives and dies on “keyfabe;” the portrayal of staged events in the absence of “real” competition to drive the rivalries and relationships between participants so as to appear genuine and not of a predetermined nature of any kind.

While the NBA and the NFL have real, unscripted competition, they still need the “love ’em or hate ’em” element.  That’s why this past NBA Finals drew so many viewers; it featured two polarizing entities.  NBA fans are cleaved along a line separating LeBron James’ lovers and haters, much like the newly-demonized super-team as noted by Shadow League.  As they’ve also noted, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver seems to understand that.

“Rather than focusing on the top of the league, we should be focusing on the rest of the league,” Silver told The Washington Post before Game 4. “Rather than talking about how to break up or knock down a championship-caliber team, my focus should be on how we do a better job developing more great players in this league.”

Not only is that a true statement, but when this league does just that, it’s high time to quit wasting them in markets nobody cares about.  It’s time for a reality check; like it or not, the NBA is a league where a few “big” franchises pay the freight for a bunch of smaller ones, and with very few exceptions, there’s a direct correlation between market size and profitability of the league’s franchises.  There’s an easy way numeric to see that.

First, let’s look at all 30 NBA franchises in terms of franchise value measured (in millions of dollars, all numbers from Forbes.com):

  1. New York Knicks $3,300.00
  2. Los Angeles Lakers $3,000.00
  3. Golden State Warriors $2,600.00
  4. Chicago Bulls $2,500.00
  5. Boston Celtics $2,200.00
  6. Los Angeles Clippers $2,000.00
  7. Brooklyn Nets $1,800.00
  8. Houston Rockets $1,650.00
  9. Dallas Mavericks $1,450.00
  10. Miami Heat $1,350.00
  11. Cleveland Cavaliers $1,200.00
  12. San Antonio Spurs $1,175.00
  13. Toronto Raptors $1,125.00
  14. Phoenix Suns $1,100.00
  15. Sacramento Kings $1,075.00
  16. Portland Trail Blazers $1,050.00
  17. Oklahoma City Thunder $1,025.00
  18. Washington Wizards $1,000.00
  19. Orlando Magic $920.00
  20. Utah Jazz $910.00
  21. Detroit Pistons $900.00
  22. Denver Nuggets $890.00
  23. Atlanta Hawks $885.00
  24. Indiana Pacers $880.00
  25. Philadelphia 76ers $800.00
  26. Memphis Grizzlies $790.00
  27. Milwaukee Bucks $785.00
  28. Charlotte Hornets $780.00
  29. Minnesota Timberwolves $770.00
  30. New Orleans Pelicans $750.00

It’s easy to see that with very few exceptions, franchise value has a relationship with market size.  Six of the top eight are in the four wealthiest and most populated markets in the United States: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston. Sorting these teams by total revenue tells the same story, again with a very few exceptions (in millions of U.S. dollars). Green indicates a play-off team

  1. New York Knicks $376.00
  2. Los Angeles Lakers $333.00
  3. Golden State Warriors $305.00
  4. Houston Rockets $244.00
  5. Cleveland Cavaliers $233.00
  6. Chicago Bulls $232.00
  7. Brooklyn Nets $223.00
  8. Miami Heat $210.00
  9. Boston Celtics $200.00
  10. Dallas Mavericks $194.00
  11. Toronto Raptors $193.00
  12. Oklahoma City Thunder $187.00
  13. Los Angeles Clippers $185.00
  14. Portland Trail Blazers $178.00
  15. Phoenix Suns $173.00
  16. Detroit Pistons $172.00
  17. Atlanta Hawks $169.00
  18. Orlando Magic $166.00
  19. Sacramento Kings $164.00
  20. Utah Jazz $164.00
  21. Charlotte Hornets $158.00
  22. Denver Nuggets $157.00
  23. Indiana Pacers $157.00
  24. New Orleans Pelicans $156.00
  25. Washington Wizards $155.00
  26. Memphis Grizzlies $155.00
  27. Minnesota Timberwolves $154.00
  28. Milwaukee Bucks $146.00
  29. Philadelphia 76ers $140.00
  30. San Antonio Spurs $107.00

That list hints at  something “parity” crowd doesn’t want to admit.  Parity is here, and it’s not a good thing.  There were article after article that all really said the same thing; last season’s play-offs were boring and everybody was simply waiting for yet another Warriors-Cavaliers rematch…which by the way, was also boring.  You have to admit, it’s a pretty good definition of parity when the top two franchises in terms of revenue are fielding two of the worst teams, the franchise ranked dead last puts one of the best teams on the floor, and there’s as many play-off team from the bottom ten as there are from the top.

In other words, it’s time to admit parity is here, which is why Silver is exactly right when he says this:

“All the focus seems to be on, ‘they’re too good’ as opposed to, ‘What is it we should be doing to create more great teams in this league?’ That’s what my response is. My answer is, let’s create more great teams, rather than completely focus on one incredible team and whether that’s seemingly unfair to the other team. I think it’s the nature of competition. Ultimately, it’s about raising the bar for all the teams in this league and celebrating excellence.”

Exactly.  Like I said earlier, the 80’s was the “salad days” of the NBA; business is always better with five or six really good teams in the league, rather than one with 20 so-so sides.  Not to mention, not only is parity boring, it’s a really bad business model.  That becomes evident when you look at NBA teams ranked in terms of EBIDTA (an accounting acronym which stands for earnings before interest, depreciation, taxes and amortization) which is the best metric for understanding a business’s ability to generate cash flow and for judging a company’s operating performance (in millions of U.S. dollars).

  1. New York Knicks $141.20
  2. Los Angeles Lakers $119.20
  3. Golden State Warriors $74.20
  4. Houston Rockets $62.70
  5. Boston Celtics $60.10
  6. Toronto Raptors $46.10
  7. Chicago Bulls $45.50
  8. Orlando Magic $44.70
  9. Portland Trail Blazers $41.20
  10. Dallas Mavericks $40.30
  11. Utah Jazz $36.00
  12. Minnesota Timberwolves $25.90
  13. Phoenix Suns $25.30
  14. Milwaukee Bucks $24.00
  15. Indiana Pacers $23.90
  16. Detroit Pistons $21.80
  17. Denver Nuggets $21.20
  18. Miami Heat $21.10
  19. Atlanta Hawks $19.80
  20. Sacramento Kings $18.40
  21. San Antonio Spurs $18.40
  22. Philadelphia 76ers $18.20
  23. New Orleans Pelicans $16.70
  24. Brooklyn Nets $15.70
  25. Charlotte Hornets $9.40
  26. Washington Wizards $6.50
  27. Memphis Grizzlies $0.20
  28. Oklahoma City Thunder -$8.40
  29. Los Angeles Clippers -$11.80
  30. Cleveland Cavaliers -$40.20

Take your pick as to which item drives home the point about the fallacy of “parity;” the fact that no matter how you slice the numbers in terms of financial performance, the same three franchises come out on top…two in the top two markets, and the franchise currently wearing the “super-team” tag.  If you don’t buy that example, look at the fact the bottom five franchises are all play-off teams, and the bottom two feature a team in the 2nd largest market which doesn’t even have to pay rent on it’s arena, and a team which has been to three straight NBA Finals operating at a $40 million per year deficit.

When you look at those numbers, how can anybody say that “parity” is a good idea?  People forget the NBA is a business, and businesses only stay in business when they make money.  Any business which has a model that punishes success and rewards mediocrity  isn’t going to last long. That’s why like it or not, Adam Silver gets it.  He said so himself.

“We’re never going to have NFL-style parity in this league. It is the nature of this league that certain players are so good that those teams are likely almost automatically, if that player remains healthy, to become play-off teams, and especially mixed with other great players.  But having said that, there are still additional things we think we can do that will further encourage strong competition throughout the league. One fantastic trend I believe we’re seeing in the league, and you saw it with the Western Conference Finals, Oklahoma City has the smallest market in the league, has the exact same ability to put together a fantastic team and create culture just like a team from the Bay Area, and just in the same way that Cleveland does with the Toronto team. And I think that was one of our goals in the last collective bargaining agreement.”

In other words, Silver is saying the NBA has a salary cap, but it doesn’t have a bad management cap.  That’s why parity is a myth…you simply can’t fix bad management.

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About J-Dub

What your view of sports would be if you had too many concussions

One comment on “Does Adam Silver Want To Kill Parity in the NBA? I Really Hope So…

  1. On a slightly related note, I’ve been thinking about the NFL and NBAPAs and the difference in the power between the two.

    Fortunately, the NBA has a far more progressive commissioner… or at least one who says all the right things. Or maybe I’m just comparing him to the uselessness of Heir Goodell.

    For various reasons, the NBA is growing in popularity among today’s youth faster than any other sport. I’m pretty sure the Golden State Warriors are one of those pretty big reasons. I’d love to see ’em take down all other 29 teams in back-to-back-to-back-to-the-29th-power Diggstown fashion.

    Back to the differences in the power structures of the NFL and NBA PA’s. The NBA Players Association has the power to not let Silver or the owners do anything stupid. I’m not so sure the NFL PA has that same authority.

    Like

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