LeBron James, bless his Phil Collins-loving heart, certainly sparked some new debate on the subject of NBA contraction by discussing the matter fairly openly (if not duplicitously) in recent days. Debate is the DNA of sports fandom, and a divisive issue like contraction fits right in.
Unfortunately, too many folks arguing in favor of contraction have no clue what they're talking about.
Terence Moore of FanHouse argues that the NBA should take LeBron's (initial) advice and cut 3-4 teams. He names the Memphis Grizzlies, New Jersey Nets, L.A. Clippers and Atlanta Hawks as prime candidates.
Bad attendance is used as a decision point on which teams are worthy of contraction. The Hawks draw 14,000 fans a game and the Lakers draw 19,000. Those 5,000 missing fans, 41 times a year ... that's the justification despite the cold cash the 14,000 fans who do show up are spending, and the millions the networks (local and national) pay the NBA for the right to air their games, and the millions in Joe Johnson jerseys and Hawks hats and logo toasters (no, really!) the team and league earn? Contractionists like Moore are dealing in small potatoes, y'all. David Stern is looking at the big picture, and it's filled with money. It's a giant frame filled with dollars.
Look at Seattle. The metropolis got knocked out of the NBA because the taxpayers wouldn't pony up a new arena, and the NBA and local ownership couldn't (or wouldn't) figure out another way. How much money do you think the good people of Seattle are spending on the NBA right now? No jerseys, no gate, no merch, no parking revenue. No Sonics logo toasters. The NBA -- and laugh if you want, but I do believe this -- tried really hard to stay in Seattle. They will probably try hard to return to Seattle if an arena is built (or KeyArena is updated). David Stern does not discriminate against dollars from certain longitudes. He's a brilliant businessman, and it killed him to leave the Emerald City ... even if his pissed-off soundbites told a different story.
If there was no money to be had, he wouldn't have cared. If there was no money to be had, the NBA wouldn't have spent hundreds of thousands trying to find an arena solution in Sacramento. If there was no money to be had, the NBA wouldn't have bailed out George Shinn and bought the Hornets.
If there was no money to be had, no thirst for pro basketball in non-glamour cities, taxpayers in cities like Oklahoma City and Kansas City wouldn't fund arenas without an NBA tenant in place. OKC built the Ford Center before Clay Bennett took over the Sonics, all on the hopes of landing an NBA squad. Kansas City did the same, and waits.
You think all these multi-millionaire businessmen are dummies? You think Michael Gearon, who fought for years to settle the Hawks' ownership quarrel, did all that because he likes to rub elbows with T.I. and not because there is mad loot in owning an NBA team?
You kill the Hawks, and you decimate (if not eliminate) the revenue the NBA makes in a major city. All because a quarter of the arena's seats are empty on any given Tuesday night in December? How dumb is that?
Moore also argues that talent is too thinly spread in the 30-team NBA. Kelly Dwyer stuck a dagger in that myth earlier this week, but it's worth looking at just how off the mark Moore's example is.
[T]he Milwaukee Bucks of the 1980s were a microcosm of those times by ranking high among the NBA's all-time greatest teams that nobody ever remembers. They had stars such as Sidney Moncrief, Bob Lanier and Terry Cummings, and they were led by Don Nelson, who won NBA Coach of the Year honors twice during that decade.
In one stretch, those Bucks won their division seven straight years while winning 50 or more games each of those years.
Here was their problem: the Philadelphia 76ers of Dr. J, Moses Malone and Maurice Cheeks, and the Boston Celtics of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. As a result, those Bucks never reached the NBA Finals, and they rarely reached the Eastern Conference finals, but they showed how gifted many of those other NBA teams were during the 1980s.
That the invisible "no one" remembers the very good '80s Bucks is an argument for league constriction and talent stacking? (By the way, Moore should talk to some of his FH colleagues about those Bucks. Or he could talk to any sentient NBA fan. People remember those Bucks. People love those Bucks.) According to Moore, that the Bucks couldn't get over the hump is a feature of the '80s lack of parity, not a bug. Whatever. Let's accept that pretzel of warped rationality.
But then, I'd like to introduce Mr. Moore to the title-less Dallas Mavericks of the 2000s, a stacked team on its way to an 11th straight 50-win season, as well as the absent-from-the-Finals Phoenix Suns, who won more than 60 (!) twice but couldn't get out of the West. Or how about the Sonics, Knicks and Jazz of the 1990s, incredible and consistent teams that couldn't beat a certain monolith?
I mean, I don't know, but it seems like expansion of the NBA didn't end the era of difficult roads to the championship. It's almost as if the NBA championship has always been won by teams with one of the very best stars, not a Bucks-like collection of very good players. It's almost as if nostalgia for '80s basketball has nothing to do with the case for or against contraction.
What I'm saying is that, although the NBA's national television ratings are up by 30 percent so far this year, those ratings would soar to levels beyond a combination of vintage Air Jordan leaps if the league sliced either some or all of its franchises that produce yawning.
You have 30 pomegranates, but a couple are less plump than I'd subjectively like, so you should incinerate four of them. It makes no sense, y'all. None.