5 Ways to Ruin the NBA

Michael KeefeContributor IIIMarch 29, 2012

5 Ways to Ruin the NBA

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    The NBA is currently trying to rebuild itself after a disastrous offseason that included a work stoppage that started in July and held games off until Christmas.

    As quickly as the NBA seems to have recovered from the stoppage, it did immense damage to, and basically reversed, all of the work the league had done to get the NBA to its most popular state in years.

    Now, the league is faced with figuring out how to earn back that goodwill from fans and become the insanely popular sport it used to be. That is going to require a lot of diligence from commissioner David Stern and the rest of the league office. They need to find a way to reconnect with the average fans and make them feel significant again.

    Stern and his staff also need to convince corporate partners that the league is stable and poised to make a large comeback. The task facing the league is a daunting one.

    This article will describe five things that, if done by the NBA or its teams, could absolutely ruin the league.

Super Teams

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    In the summer of 2010, the Miami Heat formed the first NBA “Super Team” of this era. LeBron James and Chris Bosh, the cornerstone players of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, respectively, both decided that it would be easier to join fellow superstar Dwyane Wade than to try to beat him.

    I know the Celtics formed the Big Three before any of this happened, but they did that through creativity in trades to bring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to Boston. James and Bosh each made the decision to join Wade via free agency.

    At its core, it’s not a bad thing to have three great players on the same team. I don’t want to make this seem as evil as some other writers would have you think. However, it does pose one seriously disconcerting problem in the NBA.

    Competitive spirit amongst the players has become much, much weaker than it used to be. Players don’t care about competing anymore, they just want to win. That makes for a duller game to watch.

    Before superstars decided they wanted to form these super teams, almost every game had a superstar vs. superstar storyline. That is disappearing, making way for a few marquee games throughout the year.

    I know this point has been made over and over again, but think of the NBA in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s. Players like Julius Erving, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan would have never considered leaving their teams to team up with each other. Every game was personal to those guys. They looked forward to having the chance to compete against the other great players in the league. Those rivalries kept them sharp.

    That mentality seems like it’s a thing of the past, and if it continues to fade, it will mean very bad things for the NBA.

Keep a Soft Cap

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    The flexible salary cap of the NBA might be the biggest problem with the league, and it’s one of the most basic things to fix.

    A soft cap allows the richest teams to basically buy the pot. Threatening the majority of the owners in the NBA with a luxury tax is not going to even come close to deterring them from spending more than the cap if they want to.

    Check out this article by Tim Donahue. He argues that, in order to really have competitive balance in the NBA, a hard salary cap is needed. Teams will have to make decisions realistically based on how much cap space they have. The current structure is more of a guideline than a cap, and teams are more than willing to ignore it.

    Donahue is right in his article. In order to really build a contender in the NBA today, a team either has to tank a few seasons and get lucky in the draft, or they have to spend more than the cap. 

    Adding a hard cap levels the playing field for all teams to be able to compete in the league, which is what each team in an ideal world exists to do. Keeping a soft cap means only the rich can sustain success.

Ignore International Progress

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    One of Stern’s greatest accomplishments as the commissioner of the NBA has been the globalization of the league.

    Damon Jones and Stephon Marbury can thank Stern for becoming stars in China. Stern had the prescience to see that a growing number of international players would come into the league, and he capitalized by marketing to those foreign locations.

    Stern made it so that James was almost as big as Yao in China. He made Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant household names in England, France and Germany. Not only did this help develop the NBA brand, but it made the league that much more profitable because corporate partners knew they would reach a global audience.

    After the lockout, and the in-house problems, it seems as if they have began to stray away from some of the progress they had made overseas. It’s understandable to turn full attention to a problem like the lockout, but they need to continue to have that presence in foreign lands to continue attracting foreign players and to build up positive PR after the lockout.

    Along with the PR benefits of globalization, the revenue generated by truly being a worldwide organization is massive. The amount of money brought in by international deals can really help the NBA to sustain so many of their programs here in the US, and it can continue to make the NBA profitable for the league and affordable for the fans.

    According to this paper by Tanner D. Gardner, the NBA made $35 million in international TV deals in 2003, and $430 million in overseas merchandise sales (20 percent of all NBA merchandise in 2003 was sold in foreign countries!).

    Losing that revenue would mean losing substantial income for the league, and taking a big hit in the image department.

Add More Teams

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    One inevitability of any sports league is the desire of the league to take over as many markets as they possibly can. It’s a simple thought process, really. The more markets, the bigger the reach and the more money made.

    Sounds like a no-brainer for any league. Grow as much as possible.

    The truth of the matter is that unnecessary growth of a league can often cause more problems than good results.

    First of all, more teams means more players. This means that the NBA will no longer be home to only the elite players in the world; it will have to include more second and third-tier players just to fill out rosters. You can already see this happening with the current size of the league. There may be more teams in more markets, but the level of basketball being played on the court will inevitably suffer.

    Expansion isn’t necessarily a great scenario for owners either. The NBA is sponsored mainly by large corporations. The more teams there are, the more people get their hands on that money. It also makes it more difficult for teams to contact companies for sponsorship dollars, because there’s a greater chance that those companies are already spending their NBA dollars on other teams.

    The last reason the league should avoid expansion is because the exclusivity of the league is a major reason the teams are worth the amounts of money they are. Just by using the simple supply and demand principle, the more teams you add, the less each team is worth. Obviously, this would affect big market teams as much as it would small market teams, but the overall effect on the league would not be positive. 

Another Work Stoppage

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    Another extended work stoppage would be the worst possible thing that could happen to the NBA. This past one happened at a time when the NBA was at a recent peak of interest with the fans. The NBA was as popular as it had been since the Jordan days.

    Then, the lockout happened and the NBA lost a lot of that goodwill with the fans.

    If the NBA were to experience another stoppage when the fans aren’t as willing to forgive, it could be devastating for the league. During the most recent work stoppage, as I was talking to people, the most common sentiment amongst people was that they didn’t care if the NBA came back, they wouldn’t miss it.

    I take those comments with a grain of salt because many of those people are currently enjoying watching the NBA. However, if the NFL went through a work stoppage, you’d never hear people saying things like that. People view the NBA as expendable. That feeling is brought on by the star-centric focus of the league, and by the massive popularity of college basketball.

    If the NBA faces another situation like they did this past offseason, they will lose a massive part of their fan base, and it could truly ruin the NBA.