Fellow sports fans, I have come to a burning realization. After years of enjoying LeBron James and Stephen Curry break the game of basketball through Sprite and Muscle Milk as super teams form and wreak havoc on their respective conference, it has finally dawned on me.
The NBA sucks.
And before the comments section goes absolutely berserk with “You just don’t enjoy basketball stop being a buzzkill” and “Kill yourself”, let me explain myself. For the last 7 years, LeBron James has been in the Finals. This year was the first time ever the Finals has the same two teams for three years straight. Cleveland lost just five games the entire postseason, and Golden State just one.
And here I thought people watched sports for the excitement, for the mystery of who is going to win, something about the thrill of watching two equally incredible teams battle out on the nation’s largest stages is extremely compelling for millions. Sport is what connects people, it’s what can turn a city from chaos to cheering for the hometown boys or girls.
The NBA is far from this. Today it’s just one big slap fight between Golden State and Cleveland. 2 years ago it was one big slap fight between San Antonio and MIami. It’s just a never ending cycle of exciting Finals between 2 good teams with the rest of the playoffs being simply drab and almost pointless.
In the NBA today, there is absolutely zero competition and barring any unforeseen and extreme circumstance, this fact simply will not change. Will the league be competitive in 10 years after LeBron retires and the Warriors maybe happen to lose pieces of their team? Even then, it’s nearly certain another superteam will form even before these events happens. Boston, Minnesota and even the Lakers to some extent are teams that look to become juggernauts in the near future.
It’s just not fun anymore. The ratings prove it. The fans know it. There was no doubt going into this playoffs who was going to the Finals despite the media’s hilarious attempt at hyping up forgone matchups.
And yeah, the league has always had a super team problem. In the 2000’s, it was the Spurs and Lakers. The 90’s were the Bulls’ breakfast. The Lakers stole the 80’s. The 70’s actually had variety for once. The 60s had the Celtics. But it doesn’t change the fact it sucks.
So here we are folks, what to do? Where to go? How does the NBA regain the competition that sport generally promises? To answer this, I have dug deep into the core of the NBA, the very essence of sports to conclude definitively how to solve this superteam problem.
And it all came down to money. And yeah I get it, all sports leagues are a business and doing everything they can to make money makes total sense. However in the case of the NBA, Adam Silver is simply trying to make money in the wrong way and that is what is killing the NBA.
Right now, the league has poured well over a billion dollars into their 30 team’s cap space. This an absolutely absurd number to be poured into sports but the reasoning is sound. Ish. His plan is to throw a barrel load of money at teams, the teams can then hold their roster together with ease, allowing for great teams to stay great, and the rosters that fans love to watch compete like Cleveland and Golden State will exist for as long as possible.
However this obviously creates a complete power imbalance in the league. It’s a two-way effect here. Stars stay with the team they are stars for and don’t ever leave. The teams they stay with will stay good because their stars stay and the teams that don’t have stars are flat out of luck unless they can draft well but that takes years. Simple.
But how do we solve this?
We just give less money to the teams.
I’m stealing this directly from the NHL’s handbook as it clearly works incredibly well over on the Canadian side of sports. Let me explain.
NBA teams right now have a maximum cap of around 103 million dollars to pay their tiny roster of 13 players. This averages to roughly 7,923,076.92 per contract they will be able to pay to their players. This gives teams a ton of freedom contract-wise and it’s way too manageable to have multiple large contracts at once.
For example, just look at the Warriors and Cavaliers, the perennial super teams in today’s league. This past offseason, Golden State had enough money to sign a top-five player in Kevin Durant and simply lose a couple rotation players. The Cavaliers have enough to resign LeBron almost yearly while keeping Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love on top of others with ease. And even when their contracts are up, there’s no drama if they will leave or not because Cleveland simply has the money for it. The extreme cap space allows for teams to keep their championship core and compete year to year because they are simply able to pay their players when needed.
This creates a never ending cycle of super teams signing a lot of big names, big names contracts expire, teams then resign that lot of big names and that team is dominant until those players retire or are too old to be superstars anymore.
However over in the NHL, teams only have 73 million to sign a much larger roster of 23 players, about a much smaller 3,173,913.04 dollar contract per player. This disallows multiple massive contracts at the same time and having a lot of superstars is nearly impossible unless they all take pay cuts. This makes the league competitive every year as teams can’t keep all of their stars and they go on to new teams.
A great example of this is the Chicago Blackhawks. 2 years ago, they were Stanley Cup champions. Today, they’re still an elite team but after the cap forced them to lose a lot of key pieces, they’re no longer massive contenders.
This is the formula the NBA must take. Right now, they care so much about delving billions into teams’ cap space in order for them to keep their stars as that’s what they believe fans want to see. But it just creates a vanilla, predictable season year to year.
The NHL, on the other hand, is much more frugal with their dollars and understand that two teams winning every year just isn’t exciting.
The NBA is confusing what fans want to see with what new fans want to enjoy. No one wants to see a Golden State Cleveland every year, but they do want to see a Golden State Cleveland Finals because that’s a competitive championship series. Seeing it every year, however, is discouraging to new fans because there is nothing to hook you in besides the names Curry and LeBron.
However, hockey has been on the absolute rise in years past simply because of their remarkable playoffs. Almost year, there are 15 overtimes per round, upsets everywhere and talent aplenty to nab any casual sports fans attention.
And that’s what it comes down to. Fans are the ones keeping sports alive and a league being out of touch with them can destroy the entire sport itself. The decline of the NFL is a prime example of this. Roger Goodell has no idea what he’s doing for the fans and this leads to a complete disconnect with fans.
The NBA has to avoid this same fate because they have the chance to keep the sport of basketball alive. There’s a reason football isn’t national and basketball is. And it starts with the cap space. The NBA is delving 10 digits into teams’ budgets and this makes for unexciting seasons.
The NBA will always be around because of the love of basketball fans across the globe have. However, one day when the NBA must reach new fans, the next generation, the likelihood of them enjoying the super team plague as much as the last generation is low. So it’s time NBA.
Reach a connection with fans that goes beyond just player meet and greets and charity support. Decrease cap space for team’s to keep a peppy cycle of stars in new jerseys every season and teams on the rise will rise quickly. Or else, the endless fan support the NBA has garnered over years could be gone in months.