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?


Keeping “The Secret”

(The following was a post written several days ago in the span of a few minutes – by someone who was literally in an abandoned shack, on only his mobile phone. Initially saved as a draft, and subsequently neglected over time, consider this one part of our “B-Sides and Rarities” collection.)


Allow me to first make a confession *cough* excuse about my first entry for hoopsididitagain.  I am currently writing in a tiny shack with no electricity and no Internet connection.  This article is unequivocally, indubitably, unforgivingly, consequently, straight out of that thing sloshing around in my skull as opposed to the vast knowledge of the Interweb.  And if you’re a perceptive person, I have, according to the little blue – make that gray, fuck now it’s white – battery on my computer screen, about 27 minutes to punch out the most incredible piece of wanna-be “journalism” in the history of the next 27 minutes.

I love the Memphis Grizzlies.  No longer the punchline of the NBA playoffs (zero wins in twelve tries), the 2010-11 group finally cleared a hurdle on April 17th, beating the San Antonio Spurs in Game 1 of their opening round playoff series.  An eight seed beating a one, while rare, is not impossible, or even improbable due to the fact that many thought the fading Spurs were in a position to be toppled by the upstart Grizzlies.  It is the current 2-1 lead against the Oklahoma City Thunder, however, that have me believing Memphis may have figured out “The Secret.”

Outside of the Grizz, this season’s playoffs already feature enough intriguing storylines to make any sports journalist cream his pants.  You have an MVP point guard on a mediocre Bulls team willing them to victory after victory.  Then there’s the bafflingly not-former-MVP Chris Paul trying, and failing, to accomplish the same thing with the Hornets.  Inconsistent play plagued him all season, why expect any different now?  They still took two of six from the Lakers who should have overwhelmed them from the opening tip, but now L.A. has subsequently been obliterated in four games by the Dallas Mavericks. It would have been fun being in the locker room after games 3 and 4 while Phil Jackson was explaining to the two time defending champs they keep getting outplayed by this guy:


A more recent photo:


These stories are only the tip of the penis when it comes to this year’s playoffs. You have the underwhelming Knicks and Magic, New “Big Three” versus (literally) “Old” Big Three, and the youthful Thunder trying to prove they are legit contenders, which brings us back to the Memphis Grizzlies.

According to Isiah Thomas via the Sports Guy Bill Simmons, The Secret is the key to winning championships. The San Antonio Spurs had it, the L.A. Lakers had it, the Boston Celtics certainly had it, and even his Detroit Pistons had it. The Secret emphasizes a unit who doesn’t look at stats, cedes playing time to better players, and has stricken the words “me” and “I” from their lexicon. No playoff team exemplifies this theory – one inexplicably ignored by the ex-player, ex-GM, ex-NBA coach who coined it – better than the current Memphis squad.

How can a team featuring Zach Randolph, once called Stat-Bo in reference to his nickname Z-Bo, be considered a qualifier for this year’s Secret? A lot has to do with Randolph finally growing up. Getting involved in the Memphis community and realizing he was on a path to become the first player to ever play for all 30 teams lent to creating a Z-Bo that passed out of double teams instead of forcing shots, became a more willing passer all around, and refined his defensive game.

But being the stand-out Grizzly on the stat sheets is about as close to bringing Memphis a championship as the paper cut you get from holding a stat sheet. (Paper went out with powdered wigs.) This team features an improved Marc “not a Pau-ssy” Gasol, gifted Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo, defensive specialist Shane Battier, and playmakers Sam Young, Tony Allen, Darrell Arthur, and Hamed Haddadi.

“Who?” you say. The last four are The Secret. All split minutes, all know their role, all have one word scrolling on the ticker in their heads, winning. Charlie Sheen has infected the 2010-2011 Memphis Grizzlies.

Not a super team (If you consider a “team” three or less), not a group of old guys featuring Rajon Rondo playing with the only arm that is not fucking destroyed. They weren’t in the desperate position to follow the philosophy of the Cobra Kai dojo.


Elbow to the ribcage is sweep the leg, update 1.1.2.

Most of all they certainly aren’t a team that reads articles about how fucking awesome they are for playing as team. No, these guys just spend their time coming back from 21 down against an opponent they make look lost on the hardwood sometimes and are quietly zipping the lips of those who say an 8 seed isn’t good enough to make the finals.