Is Chris Bosh a Warning Sign of an NBA Small-Market Squeeze-Out?

Toby MarcellContributor IMay 28, 2010

Lost amid the cacophony of where LeBron’s summer home will be was a little noticed request, or rather tacit ultimatum, from Chris Bosh via his agent last week to his current team, the Toronto Raptors.

Like “King” James, Bosh will be a free agent this summer and is already being much sought after by every team that can afford him.

But what distinguished Bosh’s notice was his insistence that he would only accept a trade to a few select teams, or rather cities: New York, Miami, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

The rest of you small and mid-market teams?

Need Not Apply.

LeBron and, now, Bosh have instructed the league that their talents will only be exported to an elite group of large-market, high-visibility cities.

And while there are a dozen reasons why a star in the maximum salary constellation, like James or Bosh, might choose his next destination, one would think the opportunity to win at the highest level would be priority No. 1.

But in the current NBA culture, it’s not looking that way.

Call them Chris Bosh and the Traveling All-Stars and Vacation Kings.

Players are now deciding where to play not based on salary, teammates or coaches, but rather, on what I call the Vacation Factor.

Star players now only want to play in places that comprise of America’s favorite vacation spots, and are telling the rest of the league’s cities—get lost, or at least get a better tourism bureau.

After all, why should the average resort-bound All-Star toil away in the rust-belt gloom of Detroit, or the frost-bitten backwater of Indianapolis?

Look, stars don’t buy Bottega Veneta sunglasses to stare at the lutefisk spread on         the T-Wolves' lunch table.

Do you really think fans in Charlotte are going to appreciate those Italian shoes?

And tell me exactly where star players are going to relax after the game in Salt Lake City?  The Piper Down: an Olde World Pub? 

I don't think so.

Even if Wednesday nights ladies drink free? 

Not on your life.

Are you honestly asking me to believe NBA stars are pining to move to Oklahoma City in time to catch the Rooster Days Festival? 

I think not.

Hey, who’s up for the Milwaukee Bead & Button Show? 

Exactly no one, that’s who.

But, all this mid-market condescension has a downside that David Stern may want to stem early, or else risk losing the appeal and profitability of his league due to unchecked elitism.

At last year’s NBA draft the Minnesota Timberwolves chose Ricky Rubio, then playing in Spain, who promptly told the T-Wolves, “Adios,” and declined to play for them.

And although his official reason for staying put concerned the buyout with his Barcelona contract and a need to mature as a player, this was likely to keep Minnesota from having too much huevos on their collective faces.

You have to wonder if he would have similarly ignored the Lakers.

With Rubio, LeBron, and now Bosh limiting their career options to whether they prefer a sun-filled beach or the Miracle Mile, many more are sure to follow.

But if players keep choosing to fly over America’s fly-over country, it will inevitably lead to a squeezing out of small and mid-market teams because the few large ones have all the talent.

Addressing the effect of having a few market players squeeze out the competition, Professor Craig Pirrong of the University of Michigan School of Business, writing for the Cato Institute, states that, “[t]here is one form of activity in futures markets that is almost universally considered manipulative... This is a ‘long market power manipulation,’ commonly called a ‘corner’ or a ‘squeeze.’"

This is why, he notes, there are thousands of rules and legal consequences if businesses try this—they are hurting the free market and squeezing out competitors.

The NBA will only be hurting its long-term viability if it continues to allow stars, especially draft picks, to shun the small-markets for the playgrounds of Vacationland.

But is it even possible to force stars like Bosh to ignore the bright lights and beautiful beaches of places most Americans head for every summer?

Probably not.

So, will the League slowly morph back to its pre-ABA merger days, with a few East Coast teams landing all the big talent?

Or is there a way to save NBA parity and allow small and mid-markets to compete?

And is there any way to keep stars from enjoying playing in places that, truth be told, all of us would be if we had half a chance?

Don’t ask me…or Chris Bosh.

We’ll both be in Miami.


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