Michael Jordan was the heart of one of the NBA’s great super teams, a Chicago Bulls squad that dominated the 1990s with six rings. It also happened to be the NBA’s most popular era.
Today, Jordan is a smaller-market NBA owner (Charlotte is the eighth-smallest media market in the NBA), and from his new business perspective, he’s not a fan of NBA superteams. This summer saw a consolidation of power as Houston and Oklahoma City loaded up to go at Golden State, while Boston put itself in position for future runs at Cleveland. A lot of owners had hoped that the new CBA would flatten out the talent pool, but that has not happened.
“I think it’s going to hurt the overall aspect of the league from a competitive standpoint. You’re going to have one or two teams that are going to be great, and another 28 teams that are going to be garbage. Or they’re going to have a tough time surviving in the business environment.”
Jordan isn’t the only small- or middle-sized market owner to make this argument, although few others use the word garbage. The argument is that the league is top-heavy with a few great teams and if smaller markets like Charlotte are merely “good” — and the Hornets should be a good team, a playoff team in the East, although the Nicolas Batum injury is a setback — it will be hard to draw fans, get big sponsors, get good local television deals, and make money.
Jordan’s concern also isn’t new. The NBA’s national television ratings always thrive when it can get its biggest names on its biggest platforms — LeBron, Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry in the Finals last season meant the best ratings since the Jordan era — and that has always led to a challenge in other markets. Smaller market owners were making this very case in the 1980s when the Lakers and Celtics bi-coastal rivalry dominated the sport. Same during Jordan’s 1990s run (he’s just on the other side of it now), or when Shaq/Kobe dominated, or when LeBron was in Miami, or… you get the picture.
Some fans will argue this is different because the players are recruiting each other and teams aren’t “organic,” but it’s not because no matter how these super teams were put together the impact is the same.
Overall, I would argue super teams are good for the sport — and with that smaller market owners. Superteams drive popularity, and while Jordan may struggle to make an annual profit in Charlotte, those figures don’t include how much teams like Golden State and Cleveland (and Houston, and OKC) are driving up the value of all franchises in the league. The Rockets just sold for $2.2 billion. With a “B.” It is a rising tide that floats all boats — and it also leads to massive national television contracts that all owners share in.
And all that’s not even getting into the argument that Oklahoma City and San Antonio are small markets, but with well-managed teams they are doing just fine.
Jordan may be frustrated about team building and his Hornets not being in position to, or able to, draw a superstar player, but that’s not the system’s fault.