Originally Published: July 10, 2018 8:12 p.m.
The predictions of doom over the creation of super teams in the NBA is much ado about nothing. The wailing comes from people who aren’t old enough to remember the league’s early days or those who haven’t checked the history books.
Super teams have been the norm in the NBA since the league was created in 1949 by merging two existing leagues. The Minneapolis Lakers, who moved to Los Angeles in 1960, proceeded to win five of the first NBA Championships.
Next up were the Boston Celtics, who won an astounding 11 titles between 1957 and 1969. The next decade was the only one in league history that smacked of parity. Eight teams won titles in the 70s, including the Celtics twice. The relocated Lakers dominated the 80s, the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls the 90s, and the Lakers and San Antonio Spurs won three championships each in the 2000s.
The Golden State Warriors have won three of the last four titles, all played against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The difference between today’s super teams and those of yore is that league executives used to construct teams, where now the players determine where they play.
Basketball is more prone to dominant teams than other sports because the best players have more influence on the outcome of games. NFL teams play 11 per side and in baseball the best player on a team is only one hitter out of nine. Even in hockey, which most closely resembles the NBA in the number of players per side, 6 to 5, the best players are on the ice for only one-third of the game, whereas NBA players can be on the court for 70-80 percent of the contest.
The key question isn’t whether only a few NBA teams have a chance to win championships, but whether that hurts the league. The answer is clearly no. The league has never been more popular. Revenue has doubled in a mere five years. Why? As ESPN has tried to convince us since it was founded almost 40 years ago, sports is first and foremost about entertainment, and no league does it better than the NBA. People pay money for tickets or watch from afar to be entertained.
Instead of thinking of the NBA as a sport, think of it as you would a concert. The band Phish plays dozens of sold-out concerts a year all around the country. The songs are the same, yet the audience — many of whom follow the band from city to city, year after year — never tires of hearing them. Unlike a sporting event where the outcome is uncertain, fans attending a concert know the script and the outcome — songs and words — in advance, yet they keep coming back. They come for the entertainment, which is why the NBA — with its super teams — is so popular.
While some people lament the lack of competition for titles, NBA owners and players, who receive 50 percent of league revenues, are laughing all the way to the bank.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in and chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached at email@example.com.