Owners are used to having the ball in their court. They’re the ones who usually control player movement, but that trend is shifting.
Both fans and players are upset that players like Lebron James are beginning to assert their power by joining forces with other superstars during free agency.
Although increased player freedom leads to more unpredictability, fans and local economies are better off for it.
Last summer, when James left the Cleveland Cavaliers after seven years to join the Miami Heat with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, he did more than just sign a contract. He was the final piece in creating a “super-team.”
Carmelo Anthony forced his way out of Denver by refusing to sign an extension with the team. He landed in New York, teaming up with superstar forward Amar’e Stoudemire, who sparked the resurgence of the Knicks this season.
Combine that with the already stacked Boston Celtics and there are three teams in the Eastern Conference with two or more of the league’s top players, not to mention the Chicago Bulls, led by MVP and SAT-extraordinaire Derrick Rose.
The prospect of returning to the golden age in the ‘80s, where each playoff series could pit superstars against each other, is a tremendous step forward for the league, players and fans alike.
Higher ratings and higher quality games should follow, both of which commissioner David Stern should wholeheartedly embrace.
It will infuse the local economies of those cities and encourage other teams to compete for NBA, and potentially financial, supremacy.
James, according to a Forbes report, added $100 million of value to the Cavaliers’ franchise when he was there. An article by the Cleveland Plain Dealer found that downtown Cleveland businesses were expected to lose $48 million with James skipping town.
Conversely, a Chicago Business Journal article claims that LeBron would have added $2.7 billion to the Chicago economy had he chosen the Bulls.
Clearly, the loss of a superstar doesn’t just mean an inferior on-court product.
It affects the local economy also, for better or for worse. Teams are making overt efforts to land these superstars, not only to become a perennial championship contender, but also to boost their revenue and profit. Capitalism in sports is alive and well.
The basketball product, however, is still the reason we watch the sport. A Lakers-Heat finals that would lead to matchups like Kobe against Wade, Pau Gasol against Bosh and the volatile Ron Artest trying to lock down LeBron, would be one of the most highly anticipated series in recent history.
Every possible conference finals series between the top seeds is similarly intriguing.
There is no clear favorite among the top teams, meaning every game and every series will lead to a dramatic finish.
The prevalence of these so-called “super teams” could increase in the coming years. The impending free agent market in 2012 could feature Orlando center Dwight Howard, New Jersey point guard Deron Williams and New Orleans point guard Chris Paul.
Three of the top 15 players in the league would have the power to choose where they want to play. Teams are clearing salary cap space to sign multiple superstars to field their own super-team.
People say parity is dying in the new NBA. Small markets teams will complain this is unfair, and that they cannot compete with the more powerful local economies.
This is entirely untrue. A perfect example is the Oklahoma City Thunder, one of the top teams in the Western Conference. Oklahoma City is the definition of small market, yet it has managed to sign its superstar Kevin Durant to a long-term extension. It has surrounded Durant with quality players both via trade and the draft and are in line to compete for NBA championships this year and many years to come.
Granted, Oklahoma City is the exception to the rule, but the possibility to compete as a small-market team does exist.
LeBron’s decision to leave Cleveland showed players that they could assert themselves to play in their ideal setting: a winning team in a favorable market.
His decision also demonstrated the heavy impact a single superstar can have on local economic growth.
And although some cities gain and some lose based on a player’s geographic preference, the league and loyal fans are better off knowing that their players are, in fact, where they desire to be.
It’s the state of competition at its best.
Cyrus Behzadi is a freshman majoring in communication. His column, “The Extra Point,” runs Wednesdays.