On 'Competitive Balance' In The NBA

One of the most popular talking points during the NBA lockout has been the idea that a new, reformed collective bargaining agreement could help promote more parity in pro basketball. But as far as promoting "competitive balance" in the NBA, David Aldridge makes some good points as to why that's a fool's errand.

First of all, there's been more competitive balance than you would think:

Since the last lockout (1998):

• The lower-budget Spurs have made more postseasons (13) than the Lakers (12);

• The Jazz have been in more playoffs (9) than the Knicks (5);

• The Pacers have been in more playoffs (9) than the Bulls (6);

• The Hornets have been in just as many playoffs (8) as the Celtics.

And then:

Do the big market teams have a financial advantage? Yes. They always have. But states with no income tax have an advantage over states that do. And states near water have an advantage over states that are landlocked. And states with mountains have an advantage over states that are flat, not that there's anything wrong with flat.

It is not easy to build a contending team in a small market. But it is not unknowable. It does not require magic or spending seven years in medical school.

It's an important point to remember while the lockout drags. You could argue that small market teams are at a disadvantage, but the truth is that the biggest inequities on the NBA landscape have nothing to do with how much teams can spend. If anything, it's about luck.

There are only a handful of elite superstars floating around the NBA; if you have one, there's a good chance you'll be in contention by default, year-in and year-out throughout that star's prime. If you don't? Then things may be much harder. Either way, the NBA's big parity problem isn't that certain teams can't spend. It's that elite talent doesn't go on forever.

In other words, unless David Stern plans to use the extra 10 percent of BRI to go off and clone Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard, or unless owners are willing to let Minnesota re-do their last decade of drafts, it's going to be tough to make a league where everyone has an equal shot at titles.

And as Alridge points out, parity's always been fleeting, anyway: 

The NBA has always been a league of dynasties, with few teams able to break through and challenge the hegemony of the dominant franchises.

A recap:

1950-1960: Minneapolis Lakers, four of 10 titles

1960-1970: Boston Celtics, nine of 10 titles

1980-1990: L.A. Lakers, five of 10 titles; Celtics three titles; Detroit Pistons, two titles

1990-2000: Chicago Bulls, six of 10 titles; Houston Rockets, two titles

2000-2010: Lakers, five of 10 titles; San Antonio Spurs, three titles

Those numbers, condensed: Over five separate decades, 74% of the NBA's titles have gone to six franchises. This while the NBA's grown from a 1950s sideshow to a 21st-century corporate juggernaut, where teams sell for hundreds of millions and players make tens of millions and everyone's living a life that would've seemed inconceivable sixty years ago.

So not only is parity a pipe dream that'll never come true, it's beside the point. There's never been any parity in the NBA, and the league's been growing steadily through the decades without it.

So hey, this isn't really why we're having a lockout. Right? Because man, if Stern were serious about promoting "competitive balance" with collective bargaining... That would just be a big waste of everyone's time, wouldn't it? And David Stern wouldn't do that. Would he?

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