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How the NBA is destroying itself

Last week, I heard a sports reporter mention, “The Timberwolves are about to begin their pre-season.”  He then immediately went on to talk about the Twins, Vikings and other Minnesota sports, with nothing else about our local NBA franchise. I haven’t thought about the T-wolves in years, and regardless of how much I am told about how great the upcoming NBA season will be, I still have no interest in our local team.

This basketball apathy is not exclusive to Minnesota, as many other teams’ fans are tepid about the upcoming season. Why?  As the NBA hypes the excitement for the four or five super teams that look to dominate, the rest of the league is wondering if there is any need to follow their local NBA teams at all.

The seeds of the NBA’s declining interest were planted many years ago, beginning with the creation of the NBA draft lottery. Many have wondered if the lottery was a scheme by the NBA to guide players to specific teams, but one thing it has created are NBA dead zones, where the worst teams in the league consistently find themselves out of the running for the best draft picks year after year. Knowing your last-place team has no chance at getting the players who can immediately impact your team’s performance only drives fans away.

Then there was referee Tim Donaghy. Donaghy plead guilty to fixing games he had bet on, but, gambling aside, anyone who’s followed the NBA for the last 20 years shouldn’t be surprised by referee interference determining games. The referees adopted a “save the superstar” mentality, where the league’s best players generally don’t have their infractions viewed with the same scrutiny as the rest of the league. This favoritism has been comical at times – leaving fans frustrated, as defeat always has the potential of being dragged from the jaws of victory by referees swallowing their whistles.

The evolution of today’s template
The league had gold with Michael Jordan, the greatest NBA player ever. When Jordan left the Bulls, it took two superstars, Kobe and Shaq, leading the Lakers together to bring the superstar glitz back. This evolved into the modern template for the NBA: The more of the top players a team has, the easier it is to win the championship. The Boston Celtics went a step further by bringing together three great players, and today it’s reached epic proportions.

The Miami Heat will be a monster this next season. Instead of just bringing in some great players to complement a superstar, they brought together three superstars and have created a team likely to be the champions. The NBA and its broadcast sponsor, ESPN, have dubbed the upcoming season the “greatest ever.” 

It sure will be, if you’re a fan of the Heat or the three or four other teams with a legitimate chance this year. For the rest of the league, outside of when one of those superstar teams comes to town, who’s going to care? The country will stop and watch when the Heat and the Lakers face off, but will anyone notice when the Timberwolves and the Kings match up? How do you get excited about a team when you already know the best you can hope for is to be swept in the second round of the playoffs? 

Smaller teams lose talent
The stockpiling of talent has poisoned the image of the non-superstar teams. The Timberwolves drafted the Spaniard Ricky Rubio in 2009, and he has decided to stay in Spain rather than come play in Minnesota; Chris Paul from the Hornets was demanding to be let out of his contract so he could go to a team able to compete with the higher-echelon teams; and Carmelo Anthony is opting to leave a talented Nuggets team, instead choosing to move onto a larger market. The majority of the NBA’s teams are slowly being transformed into a developmental league for the handful of superstar teams.

I like basketball, and I can’t wait for the college season to begin. This is not about the sport, but rather about the NBA potentially sacrificing a majority of the league for a select few, something even the Timberwolves acknowledge with their ad campaign promising Heat game tickets if you buy a specific ticket package (“Come see a whole bunch of games that just don’t matter, and we’ll give you the tickets to the only game you really want to see!”).

If the NBA continues down this path, it will eventually turn into a regional sport where the fan base, outside of the hotbeds, is fickle at best. The NBA’s decisions could lead to the folding of franchises and empty arenas for many other teams, and if that does happen, instead of calling this the “greatest season ever,” maybe the better name for the upcoming season would be “the last one most of the country cared about.”

Matthew McNeil is the 6 p.m. weeknight host on AM 950, KTNF.

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Levin Hitch on 09/28/2010 - 09:19 am.

    Great article. I actually lost interest in the NBA way back when we had the Clippers in San Diego. Same issue back then with little talent and the tram not getting any Now I really have very few choices to pick from as a favorite team. I usually go for the Lakers. They seem to always get the talent……. 😉

  2. Submitted by Kimbers Cadieux on 09/28/2010 - 01:11 pm.

    I remember how excited I was when the Timberwolves first came to down.

    Spot on article and the reason I finally gave up my season tickets. It was very difficult to support an organization that really had no intention of giving this fan anything back.

    My love of basketball became no longer enough justification of the expense.

    A for the record, using the Heat to sell me the Timberwolves is one of the worst advertising campaigns I have seen (for the reasons you’ve stated) and one not very likely to get me to open my wallet.

    I hope you do a follow up on how this worked for them.

  3. Submitted by John Olson on 09/28/2010 - 06:43 pm.

    I did not know we had an NBA franchise. Honest!

  4. Submitted by Robert DoBucki on 09/29/2010 - 04:33 pm.

    Matthew, while I can definitely understand your frustration as a basketball fan in Minnesota, the problem is more with your local team than with the rest of the NBA.

    The Wolves have been one of the worst run franchises in the league for a long time. You traded away KG for too little, then traded away the main piece you got back (Al Jefferson) for even less! You’ve drafted or signed EIGHT point guards the last two years! And you’ve whiffed on most of the picks you have made. Teams drafting behind the wolves have quite often gotten better picks because they have better scouting and are better run. It’s not about the draft lottery hurting your chances.

    The marketing of other teams is a sad truth, but not a new one. The Clippers for one, have employed that strategy for as long as I can remember.

    I agree that there are only a handful of teams that have a legitimate shot to win it all but that is not any different today than it was 10, 20, or 30 years ago. It is also no different than the situation in other sports. Do you honestly believe the Minnesota Golden Gophers have a legit shot to win a title in football or basketball this year? Do you think that the Rams or Buccaneers in the NFL feel like they could win a Superbowl this year? How about the Pirates or Orioles in baseball? The sport with the most parody is the NFL, but that is largely due to the small amount of games and the 1 and done playoff format. If a team gets hot (or lucky) they have a chance.

    The NBA in the 80’s was only a handful of dominant teams and a bunch of patsys around them, yet most NBA fans over the age of 30 will claim that was the golden era of basketball. This issue is very much one of local perspective and it affects every sport, not just the NBA.

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