Miami Heat v Dallas Mavericks

NBA owners want parity not for you but for their pocketbooks

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When was the NBA at its peak of popularity? When one dynamic star — Michael Jordan — dominated the game and his team was a dynasty for the better part of a decade.

Based on that — and what we saw with Bird and Magic, and what we saw last year with the Heat — I see the idea of parity in the NBA as being to way to bring in more fans as flawed. The NBA is about selling its stars, but because that has worked.

The owners disagree. Strongly. The owners want their hard cap and parity with it. NBA owners point to the NFL where “competitive balance” is hailed as the reason for the sport’s success and massive television ratings. The league contends that if you don’t let the rich owners overspend and you put in a system where even the smallest markets can make money then the rising tide will float all boats.

Is competitive balance good for the NBA? Over at the Wages of Wins journal, Dave Berri destroys that idea (link via TrueHoop). They use a ratio that shows the NBA has been the least balanced of all American sports for decades, despite having a cap and limits on player salaires, and that has not slowed its growth.

David Stern and the NBA owners want to impose further limits on the spending of owners in the NBA. The NBA (in 1984) was the first to impose any kind of cap on team payroll. And in 1999 the NBA was the first league to cap the salaries of individual players. As one can see, the 1984 cap didn’t alter competitive balance. And since 1999, the average ratio in the NBA has been 2.7 (by far the highest in American sports). So the 1999 salary cap also didn’t seem to have much impact on balance.

This is not a surprising result. Martin Schmidt and I presented research this past summer that looked at the impact of various institutions (i.e. salary caps, luxury taxes, etc…) the NBA, NHL, NFL, and Major League Baseball have created to alter competitive balance. We found that none of these institutions had any statistically significant impact on balance in any of these leagues.

Berri notes that in the NBA market size does not help a team win — Utah and San Antonio have had great success in small markets in the last decade, the Knicks and Clippers floundered in large markets.

Berri also throws out there that the NBA was a much more balanced league before David Stern took over as commissioner, yet he has been heralded for the growth of popularity of basketball.

So why are the owners so driven on competitive balance? It’s about the money. It’s always about the money.

Henry Abbot does a great job looking at the issue of parity and television ratings over at TureHoop, using the English Premiere League and other sports. His conclusion is spot on about the issue of competitive balance in the NBA:

I must tell you, of course, that whenever, any economist is asked this question, they will say well, the league in question, and I’m not getting at the NBA here, it’s true of every league, including the European soccer governing body at the moment, every sports league when it proposes something to improve parity, says it is what the fans want.

But every such scheme also reduces the salary costs to the owners. It’s a way of containing costs.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: