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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Smoke from the NBA -- is Fire Next?

The NBA is not in trouble, so says its commissioner. The league predicts that revenues will be up 2% for the year, but it appears that the NBA is concerned about what next year will bring. With good reason, I think, because most season-ticked holders and sponsors paid up before the financial crisis hit in September. My guess is that had many known the financial storm was coming when it did, they might not have made the commitments they did in the spring and summer of 2008. This linked article talks about the NBA and its labor contract and hints at troubles to come.

One GM has surmised that the NBA has a "Fannie/Freddie" scandal of its own in long-term player contracts. A well-known agent predicts that hard talks will ensure on labor matters. And, of course, equally big questions are 1) how many season-ticket holders will re-up and 2) how many sponsors will hang in there.

If you "Google" SportsProf and the NBA, you'll see several posts over the past 5 years about the concerns that I have with the league. Mind you, I grew up on the NBA, went to many games, and recall fondly the 76ers-Celtics' rivalry, the Magic-Bird Celtics-Lakers rivalry and the Jordan years. I lament the current state of affairs, with players who don't appreciate the fans at all, with too many gimmicks going on at arenas, with ticket prices that are too high, long-term contracts that make it hard for bad or fair teams to excel, too many teams, too many games and too many teams making the playoffs.

I also lament the "too much sizzle" factor that afflicts the NBA. The league is good at marketing itself, good at selling merchandise, good at selling its all-star weekend, and good at making the marquis players into pseudo-rock stars. The problem is that while the packaging is good, the product within is not.

Here's what I would fix about the NBA:

1. Reduce the number of teams to 24.
2. Keep the rosters at 12, with a 3-person reserve squad.
3. Reduce the number of games to 60.
4. Have 4 divisions of 6 teams apiece, and have East and West conferences.
5. Only the top 2 teams from each division make the playoffs.
6. The playoffs will all be 7-game series.;
7. Teams play (many) more games within their conference than outside it.
8. Consider eliminating the three-point shot, widening the lane, making the rim higher, making the court wider and longer. I'm not advocating any of these changes, but the players are considerably bigger and more talented than at the time Dr. Naismith invented the game.
9. Have a hard, NFL-like salary cap. Create a workable system that will enable teams to recover from bad decisions more quickly than they currently can. The current NFL model works pretty well (outside what gets paid to high draft choices -- that should not be emulated). Forget about "Larry Bird" exceptions, the one-year veteran's exception and items like that.

Concentrate the talent. Make the regular season more meaningful. Make the games more scarce and more desirable to watch. And consider making these changes now before the economy gets you to a point where the 15 teams who just borrowed roughly $200 million go on life support and where necessity compels a 16-team league, a 32-game season, and a much-weakened product. Don't wait until the labor contract expires in 2 years.

It's sad to see college stars (plus LeBron and Kobe, among those who either didn't play in college or came to the league from abroad) play a game that is much more about merchandise and entertainment than about competition. No, I'm not suggesting that the NBA is the WWE of basketball, but I do contend that the game has lost sight of what made it such compelling drama years ago.

And there's no time like the present to tap into the past, re-kindle that magic, and re-shape the product to something that emphasizes the best basketball in the world over everything else.


Blogger Strength Lennon said...

Who decides which teams get cut and how do you decide?

You also didn't mention revenue sharing.

Also nba talent lost in the olympics and there are more foreign born players in the league now than ever.

the dream team faced toni kukoc and sabonis that was it. I don't buy the talent pool argument. the worst season record belongs to the 72-73 76ers

the 2008 western conference had 8 teams with 50+ wins. never happened before.

the nba doesn't need to reduce teams and the three point shot is perfectly fine.

Jerry West would have another championship if he had a 3 point line.

I think there are ways to create more parity w/o cutting teams or ur other suggestions. also all playoff series already are 7 game

teams also already play more games in their conference than the other.

the only thing I agree w/ on your list is a hard salary cap.

10:10 AM  

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