Earning Your Earnings: Why Some NBA Teams Should Lose Money

In the history of the NBA, has it ever been customary to expect every franchise to hoist a profit in any given year? With discussions of team profits dominating headlines this off-season, I am struck by the feeling that the ever-present threat of low earnings is integral not only to the business of basketball, but to the sport’s more significant value as high drama.

Perhaps owners’ anxiety over losing money should be a crucial factor in the organic life of the league. Is it not the divine struggle of an NBA team to keep itself afloat financially, in the changing climate of each season, postseason and off-season? Should owners be deliberately casting the right characters to earn for their teams, eventually, a longstanding image, market, and identity? Or should owners be spending their money on lawyers to lobby for the correct set of circumstances to allow them to make a profit on their mediocre teams?

In regards to the biggest NBA market teams, to the Celtics and Lakers, the illusion of grace lingers in the eyes of basketball fans around the world. These teams have made it happen, we think, and they will try to make it happen again next year. The improbability of one team’s unique success transforms an NBA team into an iconic cast in a world of heroes. To create and to maintain a successful franchise is a demanding endeavor. Few markets are truly dependable, sustaining their teams with rewarding profits built on high demand. This kind of demand is earned. It is not easy. Many teams fail. Many teams have never realized championship glory. Fame is not apportioned to all equally. It must be earned. And that fact is one that testifies to the challenge of the task. This is no walk in the park. This is it. It is this fact upon which the high scale drama of NBA basketball is founded.

Consider the Grizzlies. Memphis earned themselves a spot in our collective conscious during the playoffs. I do not doubt that they will sell more tickets and more jerseys come next season. The draft picks, player development, coaching — it all added up into something more. An event such as this intrigues and surprises fans. The Oklahoma City Thunder have steadily been gathering momentum in sales and future prospects, to the point that they are well-acknowledged as a buzz team. They are another instance of management showing a certain urgency, a willingness to compete. These two teams seem to have built something. They have realized a success. They are, perhaps, over the hump — for the near future, at least. The Oklahoma City Thunder are now a potential investment in the eyes of basketball fans. I very well may buy a James Harden jersey. I like watching the Thunder compete. And that is the way the NBA appears to us. Who is doing well? Who has been fostering something special? Who is building a beautiful sort of organism, a real team. This is what captures the imagination. Teams are not bastions of corporate profits. They should not make money by virtue of being in the league. They have to earn it. They have to earn our attention.

It seems to me that losing money in basketball is one more incentive to be great. A team can get burned out there, and it can get burned quickly. One must always reach for the gold. At the very least, it has to popularize a star. They have to make us want it. They have to try to make it big. They can not just subsist. Fans don’t want NBA teams to subsist. Take the Knicks. The media created a situation in which the New York Knicks either could make a move to prove to the world that they were bent on winning, or they could choose not to. The Knicks made the decision they were supposed to — for next year. For the hubbub to be aroused by Carmelo’s jersey.

The Lakers will always be profiting by the names of Magic Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal, just as the images of Magic Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal will always be selling the image of the Lakers. The Lakers profit from their history.

If a team is not doing well and an owner gives up on the project, then the team should be left to expire. Just like any other corporation. Teams should be natural, and yes, maybe there might be less of them at times. We need worry less about the future and worry more about the present. The lockout propagates the fear of failure, which, in the end, is unacceptable to everyone. The clearest issue is surely profit.

Although the Chicago Bulls have struggled at times, Jordan, Pippen, and Jackson built a longstanding market that could not easily subside. And this feat of domination, of unquestionable supremacy, is remembered by the fans who were amazed, and the fans who believed. It wasn’t just that it was Jordan. It was the brand: in Chicago, with that red bull painted on the floor, and those beautiful letters upon his chest: B-U-L-L-S. Timeless images were created that do not go away. The Bulls remain a profitable powerhouse, and their history, embodied in their brand, is their qualification.

In Memphis, in OKC, we have seen the beginnings of history. We have seen what it will take for a team to earn itself recognition and, in due time, a year of substantial profits. Frankly, I don’t care if the Kings make money, or the Suns, or the Bobcats. What did those teams care about last season? What did those teams do to ensure their success? Did they think I wanted to see their halftime shows? Or, did they think I wanted to see them compete? And why should they be entitled to a bailout?

O Captain! My Captain!: a David Stern joint

Our coffee-addled Commish - clearly a mug only a mother could trust.

This week, The Nation magazine is running a special double issue about sports. It contains this pretty good piece by author of the classic What’s My Name, Fool?, Dave Zirin, an all-time great of lefty sportswriting and one of the broader field’s few big shots who know/care much about good old-fashioned political economy. A representative passage:

It’s obvious to me that what stands in the way of a logical financial agreement is Stern himself. His intransigence is the logical extension of a decade of dress-code dictates, bullying officials, and even changing the material on the basketball […] He has created a logic that no one dares stand up to and say, “This guy has to go.” He has become like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s dictator in the novel Autumn of the Patriarch.

You might want to just go buy the whole issue, since those good people are losing about as much money every year as the NJ/bk/USSR Nets pretend to.

D-$tern in a publicity photo from the last lockout

While I’m at it, I may as well make this a full-on Required Reading entry, since we’ve been going all derelict on ya lately. Check out this dutiful – if not quite beautiful – overview of the coming FIBA/Olympic men’s basketball qualifying season from the seriously considerate, wonky yet nourishing blog The Painted Area. It’s the post from July 29th, fyi; I couldn’t find a permalink. Writes blogger jay aych:

It’s past due that this [Oceania] “zone” should just be absorbed into the Asian zone. And ideally an Olympic berth would be transferred over to Europe to give them three auto bids. Australia would arguably be the top team in this reformed Asian zone, but at least they would have to go through a full tournament to earn their title.

In EuroBasket for example, a team has to go through a gauntlet of quality teams and has to slog through a brutal schedule of 11 games in 19 days to win the title. By contrast, giving an Olympic bid to a zone with two teams is laughable.

That’s what I’m sayin’!

Our good friends over at Negative Dunkalectics – your Other home for theoretically-informed b-ball vignettes – recently had this to say about another of our good friends, Metta World Peace.  Truly a tour de force of athletic realism. David Hill bequeaths to us this lapidary anecdote:

Some drunk fan standing behind him was going at him. “You suck Ron. I’m glad we didn’t draft you. You sucked at St. Johns and you suck now.”

Ron held the ball. He turned around and stood face to face with the heckler, staring him down with the meanest of mugs. Hypnotized, the fan slowly sat down in his chair. Everyone erupted in laughter. My friend and I were incredulous. We stood up and screamed. “Don’t let him punk you! He can’t do shit! He can’t do shit!” Ron looked over at us with that same icy stare. Slowly he curled up the edges of his mouth in a wry little grin. He turned and inbounded the ball.

Perhaps even in his rookie season Ron Artest knew that one day he was going to have to whip a fan’s ass.

That’s all for now I think. Peace be upon you, Metta!

Getting High

This lovely new piece from ESPN’s Page 2 examines the origins of the modern-day high five and its surprising roots in sports history. The most surprising revelation perhaps is that the celebratory hand slap is dated so recently: the late 1970s. But many other revelations abound as the writer weaves us through the genealogy of the now-ubiquitous gesture – a path that winds through the dugout of the Los Angeles Dodgers, West Hollywood’s gay scene, the ’77-’78 Louisville basketball team, and one unfortunate practical joke.

The best line naturally comes right at the end, from the five’s purported inventor, and underscores the cultural impact of this one simple hand motion:

“You think about the feeling you get when you give someone the high five. I had that feeling before everybody else.”

-Glenn Burke, former Los Angeles Dodger, first openly gay MLB player, and possible inventor of the high five

Pete Maravich on the NBA lockout

The all-time NCAA scoring champ (44.2 ppg!) and five-time All-Star starting guard recently took some time out from dunking on Jesus to weigh in on the League’s present contractual difficulties:

“It’s going to continually get worse because America is built on one basic principle: greed.”*

This kindly old man man also averaged 27-5-and-5 (81% from the line)

This kindly old man once dropped 68 points on Clyde Frazier's Knicks.

“Pistol Pete,” always colorful, went on to offer up some more specific insights into pro basketball’s labor policies.

Asked about parity and revenue-sharing, Pete replied, “They don’t particularly care about balance. Just the TV markets. Everyone says we got [All-Star forward and free agent] Sidney Wicks but I don’t see him here … the reason all those teams like Chicago, New York, and Boston get the good players is because they are in the major TV markets.”** Wicks was ultimately sent to the Celtics after league arbitration despite signing with Maravich’s fledgling New Orleans Jazz.

In light of some spirited discussion regarding the integrity and openness of the NBA’s owners and front offices, Maravich, who once averaged 27-7-and-4, had this to say: “I dealt honestly with these people. I can’t tolerate any more deceit and deception on the part of the coach and the present administration. [GM] Pat Williams and [Coach] Cotton Fitzsimmons have lied to me.”*** Harsh words to be sure, issued after secret negotiations led to a trade from the playoff contending Atlanta Hawks to the brand-new New Orleans expansion team despite assurances to the contrary. After that, Pete says he “realized what a cold, flesh-peddling business basketball could be.” Ouch!

Everyone has a bad day at the office, but did the first-ballot Hall of Famer have any more general opinions on the NBA writ large?

“It’s difficult to be happy in this business… I’m completely frustrated with basketball. I’m sorry I ever came into this league.”****

Lockout with your socks out, Pistol Pete!

* 1976 interview with George White of the Houston Chronicle
**
Excerpt from Maravich’s autobiography, Heir to a Dream (1987)
*** 1974 interview with Darrel Simmons in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
**** Ibid.

(Note: this may or may not be a teaser to an upcoming article which may or may not be a book review of a recent biography on the life and times of Pete Maravich.)

Search terms that have lead people to Hoops, I Did It Again

Abridged, but fairly representative. 

yes.

old batman (41 people)
why is the nba lockout happening (13)
brandon roy crying (7)
kobe crying (6)
kobe crying spurs (6)
kobe bryant hates gays (4)
appleseed cast middle states (3)
hockey basketball (3)
deadpool porn (2) (wtf?)
ffat captain america (2)
baby baby ooh dwight (2)
faggots fucking (2)
gay men fucking (2)
white guy plays for sacramento kings (2)
funny ass dominican picture (2)
my last (2)
kobe fuck (2)
rondo on dudes neck high school (2)
do gay people actually care what kobe bryant said (1)
bitches love hoops (1)
gay black dressed up as superman on howard stern (1)
somewheredeep down in my heart (1)
gay people fucking (1)
nba typos (1)
the swept my knicks. (maybe i did) but i did something constructive with my time like root for (1)
diversity bullshit (1)
its not about athletism it’s all about heart (1)
bears, bears will tear us apart webcomic (1)
you boundary fucking faggots anger me, (1)
dominance matrices on sport (1)
“serbian guy” (1)
using reading redux in a sentence (1)
big old penis (1)
does the nba hire entry level attorneys (1)

Required Reading: Downer Edition

Evaluating overpaid players is a difficult pastime. Outside of a few obvious mistakes (Joe Johnson, Dan Gadzuric, etc.), it’s always an argument to determine who is being paid more than they are worth to a team. Econ Professor and cult leader David Berri weighs in.

Speaking of wildly overpaid players: Gilbert Arenas’ explanation of the NBA lockout.

The first true sign of the NBA apocalypse: Scalabrine’s off to Europe.

Just in case: The NBA Fan’s Guide to the Euroleague

On a lighter note, Shane Battier is treating the NBA lockout like a particularly jarring breakup.

Sports and Our Media-Driven Culture

(This is my first post for HIDIA, and I’m very excited to be a part of this collaboration.  Hopefully I can help expand our horizons to beyond just basketball in the future as we take this project further.)

I awoke the other morning – hungover in the afternoon as expected after working the night of the 4th of July – and groggily flipped on my laptop as I downed a glass of water. I’m on Facebook for no more than ten minutes when suddenly my news feed starts blowing up.

I can’t believe they let her off!

What a fucked up system, it was obvious she was guilty!

The jury may have said she was not guilty, but God will not be fooled when it comes time to judge!

“Oh yeah,” I mumble to myself. “Wasn’t some woman on trial?” My indifference to hyped up media stories is a well-known trait amongst my friends. I abhor the paparazzi and what they have done to American entertainment. I detest the way we uphold celebrities, putting them on some golden pedestal, wherein every move they make can be scrutinized, analyzed, judged, and then re-analyzed. Only in America can you get a reality show because your mom was once a Vice-Presidential candidate and you got knocked up in a tent by your teenage boyfriend, or because your father was once the attorney of a former football superstar (hey, foreshadowing).

But there was something about these Facebook comments that exploded onto my grimy laptop screen. Such intensity, such disgust, such seemingly omniscient judgment. For a woman they don’t even know! Some no-name piece of white trash (as my friend so eloquently put it) who happens to be hot, and to have potentially killed her baby daughter (hey, I’m not passing judgment, I already told you I didn’t watch the trial). “Why do you all care so much?” I thought to myself. This woman, guilty or not, has had her private life thrown in front of the spotlight, like some endangered creature new to the local zoo, with all manner of people pointing at her and whispering opinions about her guilt. Where do you people come off?

As my seething, hypocritical temperament cooled, I remembered how apt this was to stick with my previous plans and finally complete my first entry for HIDIA: a look at how we as fans have bought into this hyper-sensationalized, media-driven culture surrounding the world of sports

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

A little over 17 years ago, Arnold Palmer was playing his last round in the PGA, the New York Knicks were battling to win their first championship since the 70s, the New York Rangers were already receiving the infamous ticker tape parade through Broadway, and the World Cup was being kicked off in Chicago (which no one was really watching anyway).

And a white Bronco was driving down Interstate 405, trailed by a cadre of police vehicles and media helicopters, about to change the face of sports personalities forever.

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Foul Play: This American Life on Flopping

This American Life’s piece on flopping in the NBA, and the story fans tell themselves about its origins. It’s one act in an excellent episode about crybabies, which you can hear in its entirety here.

Ira Glass: Sports, of course, is a place where there are some of the biggest crybabies. And in professional basketball, in the NBA, there’s a kind of institutionalized crybabying called “the flop,” which has not always been part of the game. One of our producers, Alex Blumburg started to wonder if the story that basketball fans tell themselves about the origins of the flop is even true.

Alex Blumberg: This story is almost hardened conventional wisdom among NBA fans. If you search on the internet, you’ll find all sorts of versions of this story. It’s best summed up by Bill Simmons. He wrote, “The single most disgusting NBA development of the past few years: the flopping. Slowly, regretfully, inexplicably, the sport is morphing into soccer.” And that’s because, if you watched the World Cup, you would see regularly in game after game a guy dribbling the ball, and all of a sudden he would crash to the ground, throw up his arms, roll around grabbing his ankle, writhing in pain. And then they’d show the replay and you’d see that nobody touched the guy. He’d just fall over. And that happened every single game.

Ira: And in soccer there are players known as being great floppers. The word flop really comes from there.

Alex: It’s clearly part of the game in soccer. And so the story goes that as more and more Europeans started playing NBA basketball – Europeans had been raised in the culture of soccer, they all embraced the culture of the flop, and when they started playing basketball, they brought it with them to the NBA.

Ira: So if this convetional wisdom were true, it means that somewhere there’s a patient zero, who is carrying the virus from European soccer into American basketball. Do we know who that patient zero is?

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Oh, Dirk

Some choice quotes below from Spiegel’s incredible interview with Dirk Nowitzki. Dude continues to win us over.

 

Nowitzki: […] Of course it fills me with pride to hear that fans in Germany got up at 2 a.m. to watch our games and that they celebrated the championship in my hometown of Würzburg as if Germany had just won the football World Cup.

SPIEGEL: But?

Nowitzki: But soon I will have lived in America for 13 years. At the beginning I was condescended to and laughed at. “The nice boy from Germany will never make it,” people said. Still, I never gave up. Now, I have been celebrated by 250,000 people in Dallas at the championship parade. That was an unbelievably intense feeling. I trembled.

SPIEGEL: You are now a German-American idol .

Nowitzki: To be honest, I slowly have the feeling that I’m not cut out for such moments.

SPIEGEL: What do you mean?

Nowitzki: Well, at the very least I don’t behave terribly competently. I feel ashamed when the entire focus is on me. I think people can see that. In public appearances, I am stiff as a board.

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