Parity has never been an NBA thing.
Certainly not in the NFL “any given Sunday” sense — in the NBA the best teams win out, particularly over the course of a season or seven-game series. The reason isn’t complex: There are only a handful of truly elite, game-changing basketball talents at this level, and if you have a LeBron James or James Harden or Russell Westbrook you can give them the ball 70+ possessions every night. It’s basically like if the Dodgers could throw Clayton Kershaw every game (not that they need to, apparently). The team with the star will win more often than not, and if you can get two or three of them on one team, watch out.
Is that good for the NBA? That’s long been up for debate, but not surprisingly Kevin Durant said yes. Here was his quote from a Q&A with Anthony Slater of The Athletic Bay Area, discussing the teams that seemed to load up and gun for the Warriors this summer.
“You’re just seeing a lot of these GMs buckling down and saying, you know what, let’s swing for the fences. Let’s see what we can do. Anything can happen. You gotta respect it. Before, you’ve seen GMs be conservative, try to save money or build through the draft every year. Just try to be OK. But teams aren’t just settling for that. They’re trying to win and trying to win now and they want to put the best players together.
“It’s a great league and you want to see the best players on the biggest stage. Why not see the best players? All of them on a few teams. Why not see that? That’s what this league is about. It’s star-driven and it’s good to see that the stars dictate how the league is supposed to go. Then the next group of stars will do the same and the same after that. I think that’s what we’re starting.”
That sentiment is going to piss off a lot of fans, but KD is right. Right that superteams sell, and right that what really frustrates some fans is that now players are taking control of this rather than letting guys in suits tell them where they play.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver may not be as big a fan of superteams. He and the owners have tried to take steps in the last couple of Collective Bargaining Agreements to flatten out the talent pool, but to limited success. The Warriors, Rockets, Cavaliers (for now) have formed superteams, with the Timberwolves, Celtics, maybe Sixers and other teams coming up on those ranks.
Is it bad for the NBA? I think Durant is mostly right. When was the NBA at it’s most popular? When Michael Jordan and the Bulls were dominant. Or when Magic Johnson and the Lakers, and Larry Bird and the Celtics, dominated the league. This is true going back to the 1960s Bill Russell Celtics — the NBA is a league of stars and getting a few of them together in a superteam, or whatever you want to call it, is good for the sport’s popularity.
Last year’s NBA Finals had the best ratings since the Jordan era. Because of superteams — love them or hate them, you tune in.
What has to be guarded against is the losing of hope by fan bases where the team consistently struggles, that can undercut everything. Local gate receipts and television ratings drop if there is no hope. That lack of hope is usually tied back to management and ownership, but it’s real nonetheless. Silver is right that there needs to be a path for smaller market teams to compete if well run (San Antonio is the best example, but there are others). Even if a team makes the right moves it takes some luck to get to the top, and sometimes the breaks beat the boys, but the ability to sell hope needs to be there.
But overall, the NBA sell stars. Cluster them to form a team to beat, and that is good for the league.