LeBron James and Chris Bosh partnering with Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat is being criticized by many commentators as the beginning of the NBA Armageddon.
The theory is that Miami will dominate this decade by winning multiple NBA championships to the point that other teams in the league will have no choice but to follow the blueprint set out by the Heat.
As a result of Miami dominating the decade and teams hopelessly trying to copy the success of the Heat, the NBA will be set on a course of a downward spiral that will lead to fan apathy, loss of revenue for the league, and ultimately contraction of several teams.
While it is not a foregone conclusion that Miami will win the most championships this decade, it is clear that talk of end of the NBA is completely misplaced.
Whether Miami wins NBA titles or not, the league will ultimately likely be stronger as a result of the Heat attempting to create a dynasty in South Beach.
A close examination of each theory being advanced as to why the creation of the “Super Friends” in Miami is bad for the NBA reveals that much of the criticism of the free agency signings of the Heat is unwarranted.
David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, said of Miami “If they don’t win, if there are injuries involved, if infighting exists, then I think it’s really problematic for the NBA.”
Super Teams Are Good for the NBA?
Whether Miami wins or loses next year, it really doesn’t matter for the NBA.
When Miami goes on the road they will draw packed houses win or lose. People love to see Goliath and whether David is going to slay the giant.
If they win, some fans will be more than happy to join the bandwagon and become Heat fans.
If they lose, opponents of Miami and their fans will relish in slaying the three-headed dragon.
Some commentators are suggesting that the league is set to lose television revenue as no one will want to watch only the Heat all the time. Further, Miami is only the 17th largest television market.
The problem with this line of thinking is that it assumes that there are no other great teams in the league that people want to watch.
Not only are there several good teams in the league that people want to watch, there are several good teams in large media markets.
In the Western Conference, every playoff team won 50 games and the difference between the No. 1 seed Lakers and the No. 8 seed Oklahoma City Thunder was seven games.
The second largest media market is home to the current NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers. The Boston Celtics, the current Eastern Conference champions, play in the fifth largest media market.
The third, seventh, and ninth largest media markets are home respectively to playoff teams Chicago, Dallas, and Atlanta.
There are plenty of great teams playing in large media markets in the NBA.
Some people feel that the Miami model of clearing cap space will be bad for the league because everyone will copy the Heat and there will only be five cool, urban places that will be able to field teams capable of winning championships.
Everyone needs to take a breath and remember that there is still a salary cap in the NBA.
The Miami Model only “works” if the star players are willing to leave money on the table. Dwyane Wade is the third highest player on Miami; James and Bosh could have made $20 million more by staying home.
Yes, there will be some players who would be willing to take less, but those who believe that there will be a full-blown epidemic of players agreeing to take less money should keep in mind Joe Johnson’s $126 million deal with Atlanta.
Johnson could have gone to a team that had better prospects for winning a NBA title, but in the end he decided to stay in Atlanta primarily because the Hawks could pay him roughly $30 million more than any other team.
Additionally, the Miami model will only work long term if the players on the team are satisfied to keep making less than players with less talent after winning a championship.
Maybe James, Bosh and Wade will stay together for a long time but history informs us that once teams begin to win championships, players leave to seek a bigger pay day.
Almost every NBA champion begins the next year with a roster different that the roster that won the Larry O’Brien trophy because players seek to leverage their role on the championship team for a salary increase.
Assuming the Heat will become the dominant team in the league next year, will they continue to be a dominant if they lose one of the big three or key role players?
Don’t kid yourself, as role players matter. The San Antonio Spurs won four championships in a nine-year period, but none of the championships were back-to-back because they weren’t able to find the right mix of players to defend their title.
Finally, while the Miami Heat model appears to be the model du jour, it is still an untested hypothesis as to whether the Heat model will make the other models for building a successful franchise obsolete.
Why is the model of building a successful team through the draft no longer viable?
The Oklahoma City Thunder, who won 50 games last year, may not win the NBA championship this year but they appear to be a team that will contest for several years and, similar to Miami, appear to be on the right track.
The Thunder is in a position to win for the long term primarily thanks to the draft and not free agency. Instead of manipulating their salary cap to sign free agents, the Thunder got better once again in the offseason by virtue of the draft.
Further, the model of selectively using late first round and second round draft picks to stockpile quality international players and allow them time to develop does not appear to be dead.
The San Antonio Spurs first used this strategy to success in drafting Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili; this year, they are hoping that lightning strikes twice with the addition of Tiago Splitter, who they drafted at the end of the first round in 2007.
The Spurs won 50 games last year and with the addition of Splitter, they are once again on the short list of teams capable of winning the NBA championship.
Some people question whether Miami will ruin the parity that exists in the league and drive away fans.
New York University sports management professor Robert Boland noted, “You have to be careful about furthering the gap between the haves and have-nots.”
Craig Esherick, assistant professor of sports management at George Mason University and former Georgetown University head basketball coach, is concerned that if the Heat “end up winning seven, eight NBA championships, you could face an issue that they’re so dominating that fans could lose interest.”
Of course, the problem with this argument is that there has never been real parity in the league and NBA fans appear to like the idea of having clear favorites going into the season.
Fourteen of the 30 teams in the NBA have either never been to the NBA Finals or have never won the NBA championship.
The following teams have never been to the NBA Finals: Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Hornets, Memphis Grizzlies, Charlotte Bobcats, and Toronto Raptors.
The following teams have made the Finals but have not won it all: Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, New Jersey Nets, Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers, Dallas Mavericks, and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Three of the teams that have won the NBA title have to pull out the Betamax tape to relive highlights of their glory days as their titles were won more than 35 years ago: Golden State Warriors 1975, Atlanta (St. Louis) Hawks 1961, and Sacramento (Rochester Royals) Kings 1951.
NBA fans appear to like seeing dominant teams attempt to make good on their efforts to fulfill their destiny.
The NBA has been dominated by dynasties and the fan base has found the formula of stalking down a few select teams to its liking.
Boston and Los Angeles have won as many championships as the rest of the league and both franchises have won back-to-back championships on multiple occasions.
The Chicago Bulls won six championships in an eight-year window and five franchises have won multiple championships within a five-year window.
The NBA has thrived in the past on having a few elite teams battle for supremacy and the creation of a super team in Miami feeds into the historic formula for success in the NBA.
Finally, fans appear to be upset that they believe teams will put a poor product on the floor with marginal players in one year with the hope that they can win the free-agent lottery the next year.
Of course, if we are to believe James, Bosh, and Wade, fans need not worry as it appears that such a strategy actually may be detrimental to your efforts to win the free-agency lottery.
The two other teams, other than Miami, that had a chance to secure the respective services of the big three appear to have been Cleveland and Chicago.
The Cavaliers and the Bulls both made the playoffs last year and put quality teams on the floor. The strategy of giving away a season by putting a terrible team on the floor, therefore, does not seem to be the strategy that will ensure you success in the free agency lottery.
While Miami has undoubtedly spoiled the title aspirations of several teams this year making themselves favorites to win the Eastern Conference and contend for the title, the rest of the teams in the NBA will adapt and evolve.
Super teams in the NBA have existed before and the league has survived, there is no reason to think that Miami’s emergence will be any different.