20-years on the bench pays off
October 22, 2013 11:43 AM   Subscribe

As the 2013-14 NBA season approaches, the last year of the reign of Commissioner David Stern, Sports Business Journal takes an in-depth look at his successor, New Media enthusiast, marathon runner, and fan of competitive balance, Adam Silver. posted by Potomac Avenue (39 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Glad to see the interest in competitive balance. The NBA has generally had more parity than the other major U.S. sports (IMHO) but that's also one of the great things about it. And since any decent manager will be trying to build a dynasty, any decent commissioner needs to try to make that difficult. Hopefully Silver can find transparent ways to do that (as opposed to, say, Stern nixing trades for seemingly arbitrary reasons.)

Vaguely on-topic, is the mefi fantasy league happening this year?
posted by Navelgazer at 12:02 PM on October 22, 2013

Only 8 different teams have won the championship in Stern's 30 year tenure. Parity!
posted by crashlanding at 12:11 PM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Grantland's video previews of each team has been eating up more and more of my time every day. They're pretty good, but I can't shake the dirty feeling I get from seeing them wear the same clothes for every video.

Also the bat. What is with the bat?
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 12:13 PM on October 22, 2013

I'd be down for Fantasy Bball possibly, looks like the guys I usually play in a pay league with officially and finally hate each-other.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:13 PM on October 22, 2013

What is with the bat?

Jalen says he's gotta protect himself against haters... I suspect it's actually to discourage Simmons from climbing into his pants.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:14 PM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

More parity than other sports ? By what measure ?
posted by k5.user at 12:16 PM on October 22, 2013

That's fair, and I was just spitballing. While the Lakers and Celtics will always be near the top, it seems, every sport has those teams that are always good. but because of the small team-size, teams can make massive year-to-year turnarounds in ways I find exceedingly rare in other sports, so I feel like each season is truly a fresh slate. If somebody had been saying 5 years ago that the Thunder and Clippers were going to be two of the most feared teams in the game, you might have thought they were crazy, but that's the kind of parity the NBA can offer at its best. Hopefully Silver will foster that more.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:20 PM on October 22, 2013

I don't know the stats but I'd love to see a comparison of Playoff Appearance frequency of NBA vs NFL/NHL/MLB. I would suspect NBA has more fluidity of secondary market teams in the last 30 years than NFL/NHL. Not sure about MLB, but still, just a hunch. Anyone feel like running the numbers?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:22 PM on October 22, 2013

This article claims MLB is ahead, with other major US team sports tied for last, but calculates it based on domination of a handful of Best Teams. I don't agree with that as an indicator however. I think parity has more to do with the shifting number of secondary teams that rise to playoff level (aka winning record) rather than having a lower number of teams who always dominate. (Though MLB might still be the sport with the most parity--they do have revenue sharing afterall, something that the NBA could certainly benefit from).
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:29 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wow this is leading me down an awesome rabbit hole about parity--this article claims that revenue sharing and salary caps have no effect on competitive balance, and that the only thing that actually makes all teams try harder to field the best team is a "salary floor" where you have to pay the lowest paid player a decent living. Especially important in football I bet.

This article from 2011 breaks down the difficulty of comparing sports, concludes that NBA is "pretty good" at parity, but doesn't make that much sense to me yet.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:38 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Amongst the big 4 pro sports in the U.S., the NBA is easily the worst in terms of parity.

posted by Redgrendel2001 at 12:45 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Potomac: The "salary floor" usually means the minimum total payroll each team has to have, not the minimum player salary. I'm pretty sure MLB is the only one of the four without a floor now.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 12:48 PM on October 22, 2013

Hmm, looks like I misunderstood, thanks Coyote!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:52 PM on October 22, 2013

Amongst the big 4 pro sports in the U.S., the NBA is easily the worst in terms of parity.


That doesn't say that. If you read the 2nd part of that "article" (which is just a couple quora posts) the line up changes.

So what does that mean I’m looking for? One of two things, either:

A league in which everybody is at or around .500. This league doesn’t really exist and I’m not looking for a league that has a whole lot of people clumped in the middle with a few teams at the very high end and a few teams at the very low end. This isn’t a display of parity as much as it is a display of wide-spread mediocrity. The few teams at the very top are probably too good for the mass of teams clumped around the middle to compete with in a play-off series. Or,
A league that offers some combination of providing as many good teams as possible and the ability for poor teams to move up and become good teams with relatively little hardship.

Using that, ranking the parity in America’s major sports produces a list that looks something like this:

1. MLB
2. NBA
3. NFL
4. College Basketball
5. College Football

The first half (different author) only looks at a single season--not particularly thorough.

I'll stick with my first instinct and this list.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:59 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

All I know about NBA parity is that the Timberwolves have pretty much always been just different flavors of suck, with maybe one or two years of exception.
posted by COBRA! at 1:04 PM on October 22, 2013

If Stern is the most accomplished commissioner in pro sports it only speaks to how bad the others are. Stern has presided over a brutal labor dispute, a failed Canadian expansion where one team folded up their tent and ran and the other cannot resign star players, franchise instability with teams moving and/or threatening to move constantly, the owner of the clippers, the assisted self destruction of Latrell Spreewell, referee corruption and tiered rule sets, Allen Iverson, the rookie hostile CBA and on and on.

The man was a great commissioner for the owners and the NBA merchandising. For basketball as a sport and basketball players? Much less so.
posted by srboisvert at 1:39 PM on October 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

I guess I'd look at parity as in whether teams (rightly/wrongly) have a fair shot at the championship/playoffs. (ie is it the same xx teams year over year, or is there a lot of churn and/or spread in who makes the playoffs.)

With that standard, you'd think leagues with salary caps would have a better chance, given you can't Steinbrenner your way to the playoffs.

Man, that's a question with a lot of nuance and I'm not sure a straight answer now..
posted by k5.user at 1:39 PM on October 22, 2013

k5.user, that's basically how I understand league parity as well, but without a clear idea of how to quantify it (and perfect parity wouldn't be quite ideal, either; dynasties help sports gain spectators, provided they aren't completely dominant.)
posted by Navelgazer at 1:47 PM on October 22, 2013

The most fan pleasing version of parity is: Your team may suck, and it may not ever be a dynasty, but within 2-3 years you can go from terrible to legitimate playoff threat. I think the NBA has a better chance of that than most other major team sports, with the possible exception of MLB.

It doesn't have to be born out that much, you just need the chance of to be in the air. If you're the Arizona Cardinals, you are screwed for a decade. If you're the Pelicans, you're one crafty draft pick (and a single in-division opponent injury) away from a team that can make the playoffs.

Not that this has anything to do with Stern really, but perhaps Silver could step it up, and I hope the recent trend of the Commish not allowing big deals to send champion players to dynasty teams continues.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:00 PM on October 22, 2013

The man was a great commissioner for the owners and the NBA merchandising. For basketball as a sport and basketball players? Much less so.

The quality of sports commissioners in America right now is terrible. Name the best of the big four sports commissioners. Stern, as you said, has a franchise instability, labor disputes, and referee corruption. Goodell's tenure has seen a lockout of players, a lockout of referees, and a complete head-in-the-sand approach to the concussion problem that could quite possibly doom the sport. Gary Bettman has seen three lockouts, franchises moving to places they're not sustainable, and is so generally hated that booing him is actually a tradition now. The best of the big four sports commissioners right now is honestly probably Bug Selig. It seems crazy, but I think it's true.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 2:01 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Clicked to find out what kind of oddball sport "competitive balance" is; was disappointed.
posted by The Tensor at 2:06 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sorry wrong link. Meant to post something that was a bit more coherent than that mess of a Forbes article. I'll see if I can find the correct one, but in the meantime I stand by my point.

The definition of parity depends on what variables you're looking at, but winning championships is the ultimate goal of every professional sport. I can't remember any recent NBA seasons in which the champion wasn't one of the top two or three "ranked" teams in the preseason or at the beginning of the playoffs. Sure there are upsets (Nuggets over Sonics back in the day) and teams may make a surprising playoff run (Golden State recently), but they're not winning it all. A team like this year's Trailblazers isn't making it through 15-18 playoff games in the West and then beating the Heat/Bulls in a 7 game Finals series. Things like the Patriots upset of the Rams in 2001 simply don't occur in the modern NBA.
posted by Redgrendel2001 at 2:07 PM on October 22, 2013

I'd like it if the basketball commissioner had some interest in, oh...I dunno...basketball.

That would be a nice change.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:32 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

The definition of parity depends on what variables you're looking at, but winning championships is the ultimate goal of every professional sport.

I see what you're saying here, but your comparison seems to be driven by the use or non-use of single-elimination tournaments. I mean, I'm a huge college basketball fan, but I'd be pretty hard-pressed to describe the situation between, say, Georgetown and Florida Gulf Coast as more equal than that between the Heat and the Bobcats. Pretty much any major sport--except baseball I guess--would have the favorites win a huge percentage of the time if a best-of-seven series is used for the playoffs.

The man was a great commissioner for the owners and the NBA merchandising. For basketball as a sport and basketball players? Much less so.

Really? In my opinion, the quality of NBA basketball has never been higher--I've tried watching games from the so-called glory days of the 1980s, and the play strikes me as clearly inferior, in particular, the defense borders on laughable compared to today. Compared to the more-poorly-managed college game, where inconsistent refereeing has led to brutal 54-49 type games, I think Stern's done a pretty good job with the sport, even though I agree with you about a lot of specific issues, like the unfairness of the CBA agreement toward younger players
posted by dsfan at 2:37 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I also think this article's Futility index brings to bear why NBA is said to be more fun for fans of expansion teams and small-market teams:

length of time till a team was last in the final eight in a season
- NBA: New York (13 yrs), Portland (13), Milwaukee (12), Toronto (12)
- NHL: NY Islanders (19 yrs), Florida (16), Winnipeg (0/12), Columbus (0/11)
- NFL: Cincinnati (22 yrs), Detroit (21), Cleveland (18), Buffalo (17), Miami (12)
- MLB: Washington (31 yrs!! formerly Montreal), Kansas City (27), Pittsburgh (20), Toronto (19), Baltimore (15), Seattle (11)

(data from 1991-2011)
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:45 PM on October 22, 2013

And NY finally broke their losing streak of getting past Rnd 1 of the playoffs last year.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:46 PM on October 22, 2013

Barack Obama would make an awesome Commissioner of the NBA just saying.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:47 PM on October 22, 2013

NBA has no parity. Maybe 4 teams have a real shot to win at the beginning of the season. That's not parity . Half of the league makes the playoffs so that isn't a true tell of parity. And unless you're a #1 or #2 seed, you should be trying to finish last because you have no real chance anymore. You're either a team that attracts free agents or you're hoping to find the rare loyal hall of famer ala Duncan.

Small markets can't keep their players. Until something is done about that, the NBA will continue to be the league with the same teams winning titles and the same teams at the bottom.
posted by Mitochondrial_Steve at 4:41 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can't think of any other league that has more Zero (last season) to Hero (this season) transformations season-on-season than the NFL. That counts for some kind of parity, no?
posted by basicchannel at 5:57 PM on October 22, 2013

Definitely. When we talk about parity, the practical effect we're really looking for (I think) is the answer to "can I get excited about my team this year?" Now, as a Bills fan, that's been tough for me for a long time, but I recognize that the NFL is still pretty good on that score. I just think that, because in Basketball the change of a single starter can completely change the team, the opportunity for zero-to-hero is more present than in other sports.

But that doesn't mean that I think David Stern has been a great commissioner. I think he presided over one of the weakest periods of the league and then lucked out with an influx of marketable talent over the last 5-10 years which turned things around considerably without his help.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:09 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can't think of any other league that has more Zero (last season) to Hero (this season) transformations season-on-season than the NFL. That counts for some kind of parity, no?

That's not parity. That's 16 games being too small a sample size to determine team quality.
posted by thecjm at 6:25 PM on October 22, 2013

beepbeepboopboop: "Also the bat. What is with the bat?"

I seem to remember a podcast somewhere where they mentioned that Jalen talks with his hands, and that doesn't look good on camera.

They couldn't get him to stop to the degree that they were gonna scrap the show, and then someone suggested giving him a bat.

I assume the excuse came later.

Also, listening to Silver get bombarded with applause every draft when the second round rolled in was hilarious.
posted by Sphinx at 6:38 PM on October 22, 2013

Anybody else really want to see the alternate-history novel where George W. Bush is named Baseball Commissioner back when that was the job he had his eyes on?
posted by Navelgazer at 7:42 PM on October 22, 2013

Not if Bud Selig is President.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:34 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

One of the things that's made the league so interesting in the last couple years is the suddenly new, and widening, gap between teams with general managers that understand and embrace the new dynamics, and the front offices still run by faces from the past. People like Presti, Morey, and Ujiri and doing more with less, and finding role players that are more effective than players who, ten years ago, would be the top player on a mediocre team. Ten year ago, Monta Ellis' 10-12 million a year would seem reasonable, and OJ Mayo would likely be earning nearly as much. Now, Ellis' contract is seen as a dinosaur, and Mayo is likely never going to see more per year than his current contract. Meanwhile, you have GMs like Billy King, Joe Dumars (dammit), and Gar Paxdorf (ah, hell)* who fumble through the motions and get lucky. GMs like Morey have support that gives them all of the potential loopholes available, and they're paying attention to the stats that actually matter.

Barring any real salary cap (several teams will pay luxury tax no matter what, even with the new, super-penalizing cap rules), you're going to see small market teams working these ideas more closely. There's a reason the Spurs have been so dominant for so long, just like there's a good reason the Knicks are so often so awful.

* Goddamn, could Chicago get a break from lousy owners? Bill Wirtz, the McCaskeys, and Reinsdorf? Reinsdorf has said, repeatedly, that he doesn't give a shit about basketball. He's said he'd trade all of Jordan's championships for a World Series ring. There's talk that his son, who supposedly genuinely likes basketball, might take over the team, but for now, we have a team that sides with a no-name, borderline incompetent GM (Gar Forman) in a pissing match with one of the best coaches (Thibs) in the league. The Bulls are paying luxury tax this year (first time ever) essentially because of their own blunder (shipping Korver to Atlanta for a trade exception instead of for Hinrich, who they signed to a contract that capped the Bulls, leaving the Bulls with, wait for it, Nazr Mohammed, again, as the only backup center in what is essentially the end of the window for this team (Deng is likely gone, Boozer too, with any luck, and maybe, just maybe, we'll get Mirotic next season). Gah.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:20 PM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

One of the NBA's problem with parity (regardless of specific definition) is that there are less people on the floor/team at a time. The impact that the greatest [whatever of that sport] has is magnified in the NBA. NBA has 5 on the floor and say 15ish on a team, whereas the NFL has 11/22 on the pitch and 80-ish on a team.

In other words, the impact that moving a Lebron around in a league has more of an impact (to the league as a whole) than doing the same thing with a Manning or a Luck.

In the same sense when an NBA player goes all Sprewell it's more visible as a "league problem" than something like an Aaron Rogers, or a Rae Caruth, or any of the other ridiculous things that all types of people do but we somehow flip our lids when they're famous.

But as far as parity goes, you also have to consider the number of games played. If NBA teams only played half of the rest of the league, and then only once per season... you'd see more parity there as well. The same with MLB... having a 130+ game schedule means that individual games are mostly meaningless, but if you shrunk that down to 13, then every one becomes a big deal.
posted by Blue_Villain at 6:17 AM on October 23, 2013

Blue_Villain, shrinking the number of games is, I think, the one thing the league should really do. It's not likely to happen, realistically, because it would involve owners giving up a not insignificant amount of revenue (along with everyone else; fewer games, fewer commercials, and so on). On the other hand, the lockout in 99 was kind of awesome, the mad scramble for playoff seeding, the fact that each game meant something. The most recent lockout, maybe the number of games was good, but lord, not so close together.

If the league dropped 15 or twenty games, had teams play, say, four games against each team in their own division, three against other teams in their conference, and maybe once against non-conference teams, you'd have roughly (I think) 61 games in a season. That one game of the year (for an eastern team) against the Spurs, OKC, or, I guess, the Clippers, that would mean a hell of a lot more. For the west, the one game against the Heat, the Bulls, the Pacers, that would be a great measuring stick. It might have been Simmons that advocated something along the lines of two main days a week, Tuesday and Saturday (during football, then Sunday after football is over) with pretty much every team playing, and a couple days with no games, then the rest with a game or two, tops, as a way to claim a space, and say, hey, it's time for basketball.

I doubt it would ever happen because too many people would have to voluntarily give up a lot of money, but as a fan, I know that I enjoy watching the games that count more than the games where players are exhausted from the game the night before, and are looking at the other team and trying to figure out the appropriate effort level.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:14 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:41 PM on October 26, 2013

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