Guest Columns

HOOP LOGIC: GOD FORBID’S DOC COYLE ON THE NBA

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Doc Coyle

[Regular MS columnist Doc Coyle recently got in touch with us to ask if he could helm a regular column about the NBA similar to the NFL columns we’ve run with Greg Weeks, Dave Brockie and Jeff Paulick. Sure, why not? If you all like what Doc is doing he’ll write more… so show him some love! Here’s the first installment of the brand new shortened 2011-2012 season. Doc’s got a lot of interesting points on the lockout, the legacy of the game, what to expect this year and more. – Ed.]

This is my first foray into the world of sports blogging, but I am a diehard NBA fan and could no longer contain all of my thoughts and views on the league.  I started out watching the NBA in 1994, the year after Michael Jordan’s first retirement when the Knicks made a title run with a tough as nails, substance-over-style group of quasi-thugs.  When I get into something, whether it be comic books, action movies, heavy metal, or basketball, I tend to obsess over it.  I suppose this characterizes me as a nerd.  I’ll wear that hat because I pour over stats incessantly trying to break down the ins and outs of the game.

I was a dedicated Knicks fan as they transitioned from the Ewing, Oakley, Starks bunch of the mid ’90s to the Houston, Sprewell, Larry Johnson squad of the mid ’90s, early ’00s. When that team was dissolved, my band started touring, and I fell off for a few years roughly until Lebron James came into the league. People love to hate that dude, but I had never seen a player like him and it re-sparked my interest in the sport. The talent pool was suddenly much more potent than what I was watching in the mid ’90s.  Jordan had no equal in his era, and I had missed the Bird/Magic rivalry first-hand. Lebron, D. Wade, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Carmelo, etc were doing some superhuman shit, and I was hooked again.  Every year, since 2006, I’ve been more and more drawn in to the point where I devour every game, article, sports-radio broadcast, twitter feed. You get the point. I might as well share my thoughts and analysis. Here it goes. Watch me spew:

Lockout

The 2011/12 NBA basketball season began on Christmas Day to the delight of fans worldwide. Thank the b-ball gods, because it almost didn’t happen. The league endured it’s second lockout in less than 15 years, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. With a changing of the guard in sway, the emergence of the super group in Miami, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire pairing up in NYC, the rise of young powerful teams like MVP Derrick Rose’s Bulls and Kevin Durant’s Thunder, the NBA was at its highest level of popularity since the MJ era.

There was a lot to lose and the lockout threatened years of goodwill and growth. Or supposed growth. The alleged reasoning behind the lockout imposed by the league was two-fold: 1) Due to bloated player salaries and the economy tanking, 2/3rds of the teams were supposedly losing money. They wanted billions back in the revenue split which previously favored the players heavily (57-43%). 2) After Lebron and Melo left their “small market” teams to join other stars in big cities, and the impending exodus of Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, the NBA wanted better competitive balance between big and small markets as well as more control over player movement. Especially in regards to teams being able to keep their stars.

The way I look at it, both sides were wrong, and could probably never get everything they were asking for. The players were previously overpaid, and made out like bandits on the previous collective bargaining agreement. The average NBA salary was 5.5 Million per year, making them the highest average paid players in history for any major sport. Keep in mind, this was divided much like the division of wealth in the rest of America; a few stars got most of the money, a bunch were in the middle, and a lot more got the scraps. Overall, the players had it good though. Long, guaranteed contracts. The truth is if teams were really losing money, then the players should have been willing to take a cut. It’s not fair to make out when the business is going well, but not feel the pain when it takes a hit. All of the benefits, but none of the risk is not how fair business agreements usually work. Shared risk, shared reward.

My take on the league is that most of their money problems were their own fault. If overpaying X player just because you don’t want to lose him to another team will put you in the red, don’t sign him. The league wanted the new CBA to save them from themselves. They spend like drunken sailors and get buyers remorse when they add the numbers up at the end of the year. The NBA needs more balanced revenue sharing amongst franchises similar to the NFL in order for money to be made across the board. Essentially, the players had to pay for grievances between the owners, but the league had all of the leverage, so they could squeeze the players for rollbacks, fair or not.

The Aftermath

Thankfully, an agreement was reached when all hope was seemingly lost. Now that have basketball back I’m as giddy as a school-girl, although something that really bothers me about the post-lockout atmosphere is this propagandized perception of big market dominance in the game of professional basketball. This is mainly due to superstars joining together in the last few years starting with the Celtics in 2007, and most recently the Heat and Knicks; there is a broad sentiment that “big market” teams run the show and that the players have too much power in being able to join forces and create dynasties. It has also been suggested that this phenomenon is actually a new thing, and that it is bad for the game.

First off, this is NOT NEW. The Boston Celtics and LA Lakers have combined for 33 championships. Combine that with Chicago’s 6 and San Antonio’s 4, you have staggeringly one-sided dominance from a few franchises. The NBA has been built on dynasties. This has been accomplished by certain teams  establishing a pattern of grouping multiple Hall of Famers together time and time again. Bill Russell had Bob Cousy and John Havlicek. Jerry West had Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain. Larry Bird had Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish. Magic had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy. Jordan had Pippen and later Rodman. Tim Duncan had David Robinson. Kobe Bryant had Shaq.  Do I have to go on? Arguing that this is new is completely absurd, and is willfully ignoring history.

Guys like Charles Barkley, whom I love, say that this type of player movement is bad for the game. Sounds like hypocrisy coming from a guy who teamed up with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler late in his career to try and win a championship before hanging it up. I watched that era, and everyone was essentially denied a title shot because of MJ’s Bulls. The truth is that it was a low point in terms of talent in the league. Those Bulls teams never had any real competition once they got past the Pistons in ‘91. Jordan’s Bull’s were 6-0 in Finals appearances with no series going to 7 games. Barkley comes from an era where dudes fell on their swords and stayed with a team and didn’t win a title except the gaps when Michael Jordan retired.  Patrick Ewing would probably have a ring if he had a #2 to help with the load in ’94 and ’95.

Melo, Lebron, Chris Paul, and Dwight Howard have given the teams that drafted them 6-8 years to win before moving on. Back when players stayed in college for 3 or 4 years, eight years was damn near an NBA career. The blame is on those franchises for not surrounding those guys with the talent to win. They are grown men, and should have freedom to work where they want once their contracts are fulfilled. People want them to have loyalty to the teams and city, yet these franchises trade guys right and left when it suits their needs. No one ever expects a team to show loyalty to a player. The players don’t owe anyone anything. While these guys played for these teams, the franchises and cities benefited to the tune of probably billions of dollars. Get over it.

I don’t want to make this a race thing, but I do feel like the league, and some in the media and public, seem to have a problem with young, black men calling the shots and controlling their destiny. It’s not a problem if the brass in the front office manage their assets well and build a great team through keen drafting, signs and trades. But as soon as these business savvy, young men “conspire” to play together, it rubs some the wrong way. People rarely mention that Lebron, Wade and Bosh all took pay cuts to play together. You didn’t hear backlash to this magnitude when Danny Ainge and Kevin McHale “conspired” to give away Kevin Garnett to the Celtics and join with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. The hypocrisy makes me sick. I get it, you don’t like Lebron.

The other straight up lie that has been propagated irresponsibly by the sports media is the idea that “big markets” are king in the NBA. Excuse my language, but this is straight-up, corn-fed bullshit! NBA players are attracted to storied franchises that have a legacy like the Celtics and the Lakers, and they are also attracted to larger media markets because players can maximize endorsement income, which often is much greater than their basketball salary with the biggest stars.

So how has this actually played out? In the #1 market in the US, the New York Knicks have sucked for 10 years, and haven’t won a title in 40 years. In the #2 market in the US, the LOS ANGELES Clippers have only made the playoffs 7 times in 40 years, never making it past the second round.  People never talk about the fact that the Celtics were terrible pretty much from the time Larry Bird retired til KG and Ray Allen showed up.  New Jersey, Washington DC, Philly and San Fran are huge markets and the Nets, Wizards, Sixers, and Warriors are rarely mentioned as contenders in recent years and none of those franchises has won a title since the early ’80s.

Meanwhile, in the past 20 years, San Antonio has 4 titles, Detroit has 3, and Houston has 2. In that same time span teams like Portland, Utah, Phoenix, and Indiana are consistently competitive. They draft well, always rebuild very quickly after their stars retire, and get back to contender status because the teams are managed well. Two of the best young teams are in the smallest markets, OKC and Memphis, so it can happen.

Players are always going to want to play for the Lakers, Celtics, and Bulls because of legacy as well as the fact that these are some of the biggest and most exciting places to live in America. We couldn’t get a big free agent to come to NYC for 10 years, so what does that say about the bright lights and big city? Did anyone in Cleveland shed a tear for us when the Cavs were making Finals appearances during that same period? Doubtful. These dimwitted owners are somehow perplexed that it’s difficult to attract players to Minnesota and Toronto in a league that’s 75% black. NBA players want to go to Miami and LA for the same reason that regular people want to go to these places.

You can’t legislate these desires. I’m all for more balanced revenue sharing like the NFL, so teams can stay in the game financially across the board. I’m all for teams being able to pay their own players more than other teams so there is a financial incentive to stay. All I’m saying is the general imbalance is old news in the NBA. At the end of the day, I want to see great, exciting basketball and the Big 3 in Miami gives me that. CP3 with the Clippers will give me that.  I also like deep, balanced teams that lack a superstar like Denver or Philly. Good basketball is good basketball. I don’t care where it comes from. I will be there.

Now, that I got that off my chest, tune in soon for my continued thoughts on this crazy, post-lockout four-games-a-week nuttiness called the 2011-12 NBA Basketball season.

– Doc Coyle / God Forbid

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