NBA Turning into Love Fest for Glamor-Puss Major Markets

by npiller88

Ain't it sweet bein' elite

Ok, so maybe the NBA was always a shill for the LAs New Yorks, Chicagos and Bostons of the world. Remember the Showtime Lakers? (I don’t, I was born in 1988, but I have seen the highlights!) Or year after year of Boston Celtic domination throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s? (again, before my time). Or of course the Jordan-led Chicago Bulls dynasties of the 90s? (now we’re getting somewhere). Who knows. Maybe the Tim Donaghys of yesterday’s NBA had something to do with it. Or maybe it was David Stern. But no matter what, we know that the NBA loves it some big city success.

In light of the Collective Bargaining negotiations going on in the league right now (the culmination of which could change the rules surrounding player trades and max salaries), it isn’t too hard to see the glamor-whoring trend rearing its beautiful ugly head once again. It began with that fateful assembling of Boston’s “Big Three,” which led to much championship fanfare and the return to a classic Celtics-Lakers rivalry. And don’t forget the Lakers’ fleecing of Memphis when they plucked elite power forward Pau Gasol from the Grizzlies and laughed all the way to two titles. At that point, I was content. Ok, so Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen decided to sacrifice some personal glory to play alongside Paul Pierce in Boston and go for titles. The Lakers became championship worthy once again (thanks to a suspiciously lopsided trade that joined a superstar in Kobe with two dominant forwards, Lamar Odom and Gasol), and one of sports’ best rivalries returned to prominence. It was a little odd that Garnett and Allen (capable of being number 1 or 2 options on nearly any other team), would want to join forces in such a way that would create ungodly expectations and diminish their individual glory, but it was a fun story, and they’re fun to watch.

And then came “The Decision.” We all know how that went. After Lebron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade created the gluttonous triple strawberry chocolate sundae/cheesecake flambe (they are the heat!) of pure, abominable excess that is the Miami Heat, it was soon clear that Garnett and Allen’s “decision” was only the beginning. Elite players now seem to know that in an age when trios of megastars seem to have the most success and draw the most attention, it pays (in championships and overall swag) to try and latch onto one of those situations.

You might have guessed it, but it was Carmelo Anthony’s anticlimactic trade to New York that got me writing on this subject. And this morning I received another point in my argument’s favor, as Deron Williams was traded to the soon-to-be Brooklyn Nets, who will be poised to spend big on the next round of superstar free agents they can get their hands on. Before the new CBA is reached, we can safely say that players rule the league. This will still be the case, even if major changes are made in the owners’ favor. It’s the nature of a sport that features only 10 players on the floor at a time, and the nature of a league that knows who it’s daddies are: the superstars that put butts in the seats, sell jerseys and drum up media interest, if you were confused.

Now the NBA has candy-coated clusters of superstars in Boston, LA, Miami, and New York. My guess is that Chris Paul and Dwight Howard could find their respective ways onto either the Knicks or Nets by the time 2012 free-agency has run its course. It seems to be the new cool thing to do for players to team up on “superteams” in major markets, a far cry from they hyper-competitive 80s, when the thought of Magic and Bird, or Jordan and Barkley teaming up would be ludicrous. Maybe its a sign of changing times.

What we might end up seeing is the formation of two competing factions: 1. the players (especially the rich ones, who will want to protect their rights to make max salaries and demand trades whenever they want out), along with the owners of teams from major markets, vs. 2. all the league’s OTHER owners, who represent media markets outside of this elite fraternity of New York, LA, Boston, and Chicago.

There’s always a debate in sports over what generates more fan interest, a league with great parity that gives every fan some hope that their team might contend (the NFL has had immense success with this model), or a league with a top-heavy talent distribution that boasts compelling television events whenever the top teams meet, and spectacular traveling circuses, such as the Miami heat, which tend to sell out the lowly minor market arenas whenever they visit. Perhaps the NBA is better suited to the lopsided model. After all, it has always been a style-driven league with an enduring popularity sustained by its dynamic individual performers. I live in LA, and let me tell you there’s a reason why the NBA works here and the NFL doesn’t. People like to get dressed up and go to basketball games. It’s a glitzy event that happens indoors, often with celebrities lounging courtside. It may not be like that in Chicago, but its still a more fashionable outing than a football game, with much more bright lights and spectacle (see pre-game light shows for every team since the Chicago Bulls began the tradition during the Jordan era). The game of basketball is sublime, but for many Lakers fans, its just part of the event, which might end up in the entertainment complex LA Live right next to Staples Center, or Hollywood for that matter, long after the game’s conclusion. I’ve been to a Knicks game before, and I remember much of the same vibes. I’m not trying to mock this mentality, just explain why the league might trend more towards the uneven talent distribution that favors flash over even competition. What’s more likely to sell out a game in Milwaukee? The average Bucks vs. the average Pacers, or the weak Bucks vs. the spectacular Heat? I’ll take the latter.

Of course, the NBA can only have so many Heats, Lakers and Celtics. They want some parity. That’s part of why the league lets over half of its teams make the playoffs every year (only to let the weaklings get demolished in the first round). So we might see some things change to prevent teams like the Toronto Raptors from being denied any compensation for their star Chris Bosh’s departure (as was the case when they failed to trade him before last year’s free agency), or from teams like the small market Jazz feeling compelled to trade franchise cornerstone Deron Williams before his deal is up, in order to avoid Melo-esque shenanigans, or worse, getting nothing at all in return for their star.

In the meantime, enjoy the show!


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