The NBA instituted a salary cap to try to be less like baseball and more like the NFL. The NFL is the most popular sports league in the nation, maybe even in the world. One of the reasons for the success of the NFL is parity. Anyone can win a Super Bowl. You can be in a small market like Green Bay, Wisconsin (four Super Bowl wins) or Pittsburgh, PA (six Super Bowl wins). Or you can be from a large market like New York City (five Super Bowl wins, four from the Giants and one from the Jets) or San Francisco (five Super Bowl wins) or Boston (four Super Bowl wins). You can be from the Rocky Mountains (Denver has two Super Bowls) or South Beach (Miami has won two Super Bowls). Tampa Bay even has one.
But in baseball, it’s not so easy anymore. Small market teams have it very hard. The Baltimore Orioles are having their first winning season since 1997. The O’s were a juggernaut in the 1960s and 70s and even the early 80s. Another powerhouse team from those days was the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Bucs haven’t had a winning record now since 1992. Another mighty franchise for the 1970s and 80s, the Kansas City Royals haven’t had a winning season since 1994. Why does this go on in baseball and not football? the salary cap. Baseball does not have one. So the teams with huge TV revenues can spend their way to the playoffs while those who don’t lose their stars to those who do. It has hurt baseball for years in small market cities like Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Houston.
The NBA should learn from these two sports. If basketball was smart, they would go to a hard salary cap. Tell the teams, “this is what you can spend on payroll and no more”. Then there would be a fair chance for everybody. This is a league where two big market franchises, the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers have accounted for over half of the World Championships. That’s right, over half! Then you can give big market Chicago six of the remaining titles. The NBA needs parity. Instead what they are getting is the “Super Teams” where star players hold their teams, and the league hostage, so they can team up with other stars. The season hasn’t stated yet but we can pencil the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat in to the Conference Finals. Anyone want to bet those two won’t be there?
When Lebron James signed with the Heat along with Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade, he famously state the Heat would win “not one, not two, not three, not four…” NBA Championships. Well, in two years they have two trips to the Finals and won one. Now we have the Lakers who are what, three years removed from their last championship? Three years without a title is way too long in Laker land so they went out and raided Phoenix and Orlando to pluck away their best players to take on the Heat. So the franchises of Phoenix, Orlando, Cleveland and Toronto are left holding the bag much like fans of the Pirates, Royals, Rays, Astros, and Orioles have been for years. People wonder why nobody goes to those games?
What can you do to convince fans of the Orlando Magic to get excited about buying tickets again? They got excited about the team in the early days only to watch Shaquille O’Neal go to the Lakers and win three NBA Championships. They got excited about the team again only to watch Dwight Howard go to the Lakers to win (___) NBA Championships. What’s the old saying? Fool me once, shame on you…fool me twice…
The NBA needs to become more like the NFL. All they have to do is look at the NFL’s TV ratings and ticket sales, and also merchandise sales if they want to know what works. Parity works.