Yo, ESPN! I got a problem with some of the lies you been spreadin’!
In the wake of the trade deadline that saw two of the league's most talented young stars go from small to big (or, at least, potentially big) markets, sportswriters have taken to their keyboards to denounce the “collusion of talent” in the National Basketball Association.
In a recent poll on ESPN asking if the migration of talent from around the league onto a few select teams was good or bad for the NBA, a solid majority answered that it was “bad” with only Florida (Heat), New Jersey (Nets), and New York (Knicks) registering majority “good” votes in a state by state break down. I guess L.A. and Boston fans only think it’s good when their teams hog all the talent.
Now, I don’t want to be a wet blanket and tell everyone that they’re freaking out over nothing, but everyone is freaking out over nothing. This commotion reminds me of how when the Yankees win a World Series everyone complains that money is ruining the game of baseball by making it too easy for teams (by “teams” they mean “Yankees”) to buy championships. I have to say to that, “The Yankees? You mean the same Yankees team that spent more money than any other team in baseball from 2001-2010 and won exactly ONE World Series?”
But I digress, the problem here isn’t about the Yankees, or money, or even the NBA at all. The only problem is that people are complaining when nothing is wrong.
One thing that I can’t get over when I hear commentators cry about this “recent” rash of players moving to big markets to try and win championships is that it isn’t recent at all. Bill Simmons (who I’m just going to assume you all know of) pointed this out in a recent article and I’m going to point it out again.
Players have been forcing trades and moving from crappy situations to good ones ever since the NBA came into existence. Wilt, Kareem, Barkley, Shaq, Garnett and several others all went from a small market to a big one, a team that they made very good to a team that they made great.
The league not only survived these coups, but also thrived off them. Some of the greatest teams and rivalries were born out of these shifts in power.
-Spread the Wealth?
The heart of everyone’s concern over players having the power and desire to put themselves onto a few “super teams” at the expense of the Cleveland’s of the world is that it will result in the same five or so cities taking home the Larry O’Brien trophy every year.
I’ve got some bad news for those worried souls: this has already been happening for years. Since 1980, only nine different teams have won the NBA championship and frequently the runner-up was also one of those nine teams.
Compare that to 14 different Stanley Cup winners and 15 different Super Bowl champs in the same period. Ironically, the league that gets the most flack for being noncompetitive, the MLB, has the highest turnover rate with 19 different champions since 1980.
Has this been viewed over the years as a negative in the league? Hardly. Many of the multi-championship teams are celebrated if not lionized by both the media and fans. Good luck trying to watch a documentary on the NBA without at least a half hour devoted to the greatness of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry in the 1980s or the Bulls of the 90s.
Fans like dynasties. Whether they root for or against them, they bring people to the event. This brings me to the bigger point that we all need to recognize.
-Good for the League
I feel that I have made a pretty compelling argument up this point but I really didn’t need to. Because, there is one simple reason I know this continued player migration is a good thing. Are you ready for it? It’s subtle, yet obvious: I suddenly care about the Miami Heat.
You getting this Rick Reilly? I, a casual fan of the NBA with no strong team affiliation, care about the Miami Heat.
I would have whole-heartedly agreed last season that both Wade and LeBron were two of the best players of the last 20 years but I probably wouldn’t have been too interested in watching a random regular season game of either the Cavs or Heat. Now I’m fist pumping like The Situation in my living room when I see Stoudemire reject a last minute lay up from LeBron in late February.
I have been a hater of all things Boston all my life. But I still went out to a bar to watch the season opener and cheer on the Celts against the Heat. I very much doubt I would have bothered to make the trip if LeBron and Bosh hadn’t defected to the dark side (and I most certainly never would have supported the Celtics).
The NBA, more than any other league in North American sports, is a league of superstars. It always has been and always will be. Every city will have its fans loyal to their team no matter how great or how terrible that team is. But for a great many fans of basketball across the country the name on the back of the jersey is just as, if not more important, than the name on the front.
People loved the Celtics-Lakers rivalry because of Bird and Magic, they loved the Bulls because of Jordan, they root for or against the Lakers today because of Kobe. Fans want to see juggernaut teams just as much as players want to be a part of them. Even if they are rooting against them or beating them in the conference finals. The biggest stage is the best place for them to be viewed by and sold to the general public.
Is the NBA player migration good or bad for the NBA?
It is good for the league that New York is significant again. It is good for the league that LeBron teamed up with Bosh and Wade and they became the villains of the league. Yeah, it sucks that Cleveland got shafted so bad by ‘Bron’bron, but the NBA lost a city and gained a nation.
So keep crying about the end of a great era in the NBA if you want, but that era you loved so much only existed in your head. For the rest of us, the best is yet to come, and we’ll be watching.