The NBA has allowed being good to get in the way of being great
The Golden State Warriors are a super team. The Cleveland Cavaliers are a lesser super team. (Although to be fair, any team with LeBron James on it right now would look like some form of a super team).
I think GSW is going to win 5 straight titles. Next season they are going for the regular season record (again) and try to sweep the playoffs (again). (They have to do something to keep themselves motivated. They are so much better than everyone else that they need to do something to keep focused).
1 of 2 things is going to happen to the league over that 5 year stretch. Either 1) players will decided that super-teams are the only way to beat these guys (a group of super-stars will take pay-cuts to band together to challenge GSW), or 2) the league will just ride out the next 4 years and hope for things to normalize once that team breaks up.
There has been lots of chatter regarding whether or not this is good or bad for the league.
The side that says this is good looks like this:
- Ratings are up baby!!!
- I want to see the best against the best
- Basketball has always had super-teams. It is what it is!!! Nature of the game.
The side against looks like this:
- Most NBA fans will never see their team win a championship
- Players will ring chase and not be loyal
- The regular season is meaningless
- Heck, most of the playoffs are meaningless
I think both sides of the argument have been small minded, self interested, and miss the biggest point.
Basketball is beautiful. It requires some, not much, hardware to play. 10 foot basket and a bouncy ball. It is accessible all over the world. Only soccer is more accessible since all you need there is a ball, no hoop.
It can be played gracefully. It can be played brutally. It can be a game of skill or a game of athleticism. (Obviously at the elite top its a game that is all of those things at once). Everyone who has played pickup ball at a gym is shocked how the bigger, slow, and short guy can hit threes and compete. The fast athlete who can’t dribble or make a shot for his life can still be a game changer.
It is the most beautiful game IMO.
However, it is not the most watched game in the US. (Definitely not in the world). The NBA ranks 3rd in revenue (Thats right, the MLB doubles NBA revenues). The regular season is awful and getting worse.
The ratings have been up a tick, but the number of games is down, so the total viewership will end FAR below last year. (All the articles that say the numbers are up miss 2 important points. 1) with fewer games the average will be higher, and 2) the numbers should go up every year since the possible number of viewers goes up every year.) Take the NHL. They have more viewers this year than last year too. They even have a higher up-tick than the NBA in new viewership. Meaning, Hockey might be growing their viewer base faster than the NBA. (I don’t know the numbers well enough to know that for sure).
The major flaw in NBA success is that success is measure against itself. As long as the NBA does a little better in money and viewers this year as compared to last year, its fine right? things are good right?
NO. Good is the enemy of great.
The NBA is not in competition with itself. Its in competition with all entertainment. Just in the sports slice of the entertainment market, the NBA is 3rd at best and probably 4th or 5th overall. (NFL is #1 in revenue/$$$, MLB is #2, world-wide Soccer is #1 BY A HUGE MARGIN but no one league is as big as the NBA, MLB, or NFL).
The NBA could conceivably compete to be #1 or #2 in both. But it won’t, because good is the enemy of great.
Why super teams are a road block in getting better
As long as talent is concentrated, why would more people be interested in local teams? This is particularly true in the International Leagues. When lots of teams are competing 3 important things happen:
- Local interest in a teams goes way up as megastars stay
- A broader fan base is likely to form since wins are more evenly distributed
- Psychological hope springs eternal. If I think, even if its not true, that my team can compete I stay engaged longer
Keeping teams close in talent allows multiple cities and regions to get engaged and love the game. More engaged fans is the goal. I am not convinced that super teams do anything to get new fans. Seems to me that it tickles the die hard fans but does little to attract new ones.
The NBA should be measured against the broader entertainment world, not itself. The NBA finals games 1–4 this year will barely reach wild-card round NFL games this year. That is a huge problem. That is the measuring stick.
Super teams get in the way of competing against the other sports. Both in the US and abroad.