Competitive parity would be bad idea for NBA - NBC Sports

Competitive parity would be bad idea for NBA
League needs dominant teams such as Lakers, Celtics to draw ratings, interest
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The NBA needs powerhouses such as the Shaq-Kobe Lakers to draw ratings, NBCSports.com contributor Ira Winderman writes.
August 7, 2011, 4:08 pm

Jerry Buss takes some of his newfound Lakers television bonanza and passes it along to the Pacers, Micky Arison reroutes his Heat ticket bounty to the Kings, and so on down the line. The differences between the haves and have-nots are minimized.

"That's where it all starts, not what's going on between Billy (Hunter) and David (Stern)," a respected agent privately reasoned last week. "They have to get that resolved first. Then everything else can fall into place."

But then there is Part II of the parity equation, and it might be one the NBA should think long and hard about before attempting to engineer:

Competitive parity.

For weeks now, amid the lockout, an ancillary storyline has been about a level playing field, where each team has the opportunity to challenge for what only a select few have been able to achieve in recent seasons, or, more accurately, historically in the NBA.

For fans in places such as Indiana, Milwaukee and Minnesota, it is an ideal worth the sacrifice of a few lost weeks, months, or even a season, namely the ability to regularly compete for a championship.

Yet there is a reason that when the NBA schedule is released, it typically is loaded with Lakers and Celtics and, more recently, Heat, Mavericks, Bulls and Knicks.

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The NBA's golden era? That would have been Celtics-Lakers, just about every season.

The revival? Bulls, Bulls and more Bulls, all the way to six championships, with dual titles for Hakeem Olajuwon and the Rockets thrown in.

Those appearances by the Nets in the NBA finals?

Forgettable in memory and the ratings.

Even the small-market Spurs failed to capture national adulation, despite the artistry of David Robinson and Tim Duncan, and the international flair of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.

Granted, a new collective-bargaining agreement combined with revenue sharing that evens the playing field could change the dynamic, perhaps draw the NBA closer to the NFL model, which remains the model of choice.

The NBA model means attracting national eyeballs on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights, as well as Sunday afternoons, in the dead of winter. You don't build that type of programming with 30 evenly matched teams.

You build that through a Kobe Bryant who has Shaquille O'Neal or Pau Gasol alongside, with the Big Threes of the Heat or the Celtics, with Amare Stoudemire and new best friend Carmelo Anthony.

You build with what Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish gave the Celtics, or what Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and James Worthy gave the Lakers.

Winning a single NBA championship doesn't create a legacy. It requires backing it up. Then doing it again. And again.

Of course, as LeBron James dared mention last season, you could come closer to quality parity with fewer teams, where there would be a more significant confluence of talent. With contraction, you could have across-the-board intrigue. But that might take the franchise total not only down to 28 from the current 30, but significantly lower. Because it's not as if a redistribution of the talent on the Pacers and Kings is going to resurrect more than one or two teams. (I take Danny Granger. You take Tyreke Evans. And then?)

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The resurrection of Major League Baseball has come with dominant Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals and now Phillies. Yes, others have had their moments, as has been the case in the NBA with the token Finals appearances of teams such as the Pacers, Cavaliers and Magic in recent NBA seasons. But there is a reason Manchester United and FC Barcelona have packed U.S. soccer stadiums in recent weeks, why you didn't have to be in Boston or New York to appreciate Yankees-Red Sox this past weekend.

Fans respect dominance, even if it isn't their hometown dominance, be it the UCLA basketball, Montreal Canadiens hockey or Tiger or Federer.

For now, the NBA is selling the hope of financial stability to its teams and won-loss parity to its followers. It allows fans and owners in places such as Sacramento, Milwaukee and Minnesota to envision meaningful moments ahead.

But it goes against the very history and success model of the league.

At this stage, NBA fans simply want to see NBA basketball, without the negotiators, the lawyers, the NLRB motions.

They want their free agency, their training camps and assurances that the schedule released in mid-July will be the one that starts on time in November.

But parity?

It simply might be a concept that the NBA neither is ready for nor one that would foster continued growth of the game.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat .

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