The 'Big Market' Debate Still Misses the Mark

Rob Mahoney@RobMahoneyNBA Lead WriterAugust 15, 2012

Whenever a top-notch athlete signs with or is traded to a traditional "big-market" team—like, say, when a certain all-NBA center manages to land with the Los Angeles Lakers—one can likely hear the public uproar from space.

The groaning and lamenting of the perceived status quo only feeds into itself, and like-minded fans bring out the worst bits of loudly proclaimed conspiracy theory in one another.

As one would hear it: Each of the nation's poor, small-market teams is doomed to athletic marginalization, while those big-city franchises have it made.

The sentiment is understandable, and in some cases, absolutely true. Teams playing in cities like New York or Chicago have advantages in terms of revenue and marketability, which have a tangible carryover into leagues like the NBA.

But John Hollinger of ESPN.com correctly pointed out the enduring flaw in the logic of small-market victimization:

The issue isn't market size, people. Its that every player wants to go to the same five teams.

— John Hollinger (@johnhollinger) August 14, 2012

The NBA doesn't have a big-market problem—it has a glamour-market problem.

Philadelphia, the Bay Area (Golden State), D.C., Houston and Atlanta are all top-10 TV markets, while Miami is wedged a few slots down between Denver and Minneapolis. Indianapolis, Charlotte and Detroit join that crew when we look at the U.S. cities with the highest overall population, and yet I don't suspect we'll see the Pacers, Bobcats and Pistons revered for their respective markets' value any time soon. 

It's certainly no coincidence that the Lakers and Knicks have achieved the status that they have, but it doesn't exactly seem fair to chalk everything up to the market dynamic when the mid-market Miami Heat put together the greatest free-agent haul in basketball history.

LeBron James had offers from New York, Chicago and L.A. on the table, and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh likely did as well. Yet other factors intervened in their decision—chief among them, the ability to play alongside one another, but also involved was surely the natural allure of Miami's unique offerings. 

Markets matter, but let's dispense with the misnomer. Los Angeles draws interest because of its sex appeal, not its overall size. 

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