There are many things in the news right now that I don’t understand. And, when I say I don’t understand them, of course I mean that I don’t care enough about them to pay attention to the details.
However, one of the things I have paid attention to is the Occupy Wall Street movement. As Chip wrote about a couple of weeks ago, there are some similarities between the OWS movement and the NBA labor situation, most notably that the people making profits think that they should be allowed to keep making those profits, no matter what anyone else says, and — predictably — others are taking umbrage at that.
I see another parallel in these two conflicts — and they are conflicts, make no mistake about that. What is it that the OWS protesters are making their war cry? Directly from their website:
(OWS) is fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations. The movement is inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and aims to expose how the richest 1% of people are writing the rules of an unfair global economy that is foreclosing on our future.
I highlighted the portion that I think applies to the NBA labor situation. Yet, this isn’t a piece about the owners vs. the players. Indeed, this is about another conflict that is going on right now as these two warring factions gripe at one another in the conference rooms and in the press.
To me, the conflict is an obvious one. As we’ve pointed out on this site numerous times, there is a split in the owners right now. It is Large Market Owners (LMOs) vs. Small Market Owners (SMOs). I don’t think it is a stretch to say that the LMOs are an easy pick to be the much-maligned 1% in this scenario.
When you look at which teams have played in the most NBA Finals (with the Lakers and Celtics accounting for a whopping 52 appearances out of a possible 124 — that’s an incredible 42%), it’s readily apparent that there is a distinct case of “haves” and “have nots”. The teams from the top 7 markets have made 85 of 124 appearances in the Finals, a rate of 68.5%. Since 1980, they have accounted for 40 Finals appearances (62.5%), winning winning 22 of 32 championships (68.75%).
The LMOs have a decided advantage in this area. They have more fans to draw from, larger TV markets as a result of that, and more money-making opportunities for their players to utilize away from the court. With the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement, which allowed owners to pay a luxury tax if they chose to go over the “soft” salary cap, these LMOs could simply outspend their opponents — much like the Yankees, Phillies, and Red Sox have done in recent years in Major League Baseball. So, that’s exactly what they did.
I’m not mad at them for taking advantage of the rules that were agreed upon by everyone. That’s exactly what they should be doing. It’s what the Knicks and Clippers should have been doing for the last decade too, instead of being bad, when not completely putrid. However, moving forward, in the aftermath of the economic issues that have plagued our country the last few years, it is not just a matter of teams having a chance to make the Finals that is the issue — it is the ability of the NBA to have all of its franchises survive.
In order for teams in New Orleans, Sacramento, Milwaukee, Charlotte and (yes) Memphis to continue to make it as viable NBA franchises, the playing field has to be leveled. The league needs revenue sharing and a hard salary cap to achieve this, in my opinion — the same thing that the NFL, only the most popular and parity-laden sport in America, has in place. That will prevent the 1% from continuing to write all the rules every season and force the smaller markets to hope for luck in the lottery in order to build their team into a profitable contender.
With the NFL, fans in Green Bay, Indianapolis, Tampa Bay and Buffalo know their teams have as much of a chance of making the Super Bowl as the teams in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago do. Since 2000, an average of five new teams make the NFL playoffs from the season before (NFL.com). That level of parity is one of the driving forces in the popularity of the sport with the casual fan.
Yet, in the NBA, the casual fan assumes that “Oh, the (Lakers/Celtics/Heat/Mavericks) will win it again, so I don’t really need to pay attention until the Finals anyways.” Sadly, this has proven to be fairly accurate in recent years, with those teams accounting for 6 of the last 7 titles, with the Spurs the lone team to break up that streak.
The LMOs are going to have to give ground to the SMOs if they don’t want to see contraction become a very real issue in the near future for the NBA. New Orleans won’t be the only team the NBA has to take over if things don’t change soon.