Far be it for us to be the harbinger of economic doom, but the NBA may be headed for some tough times. In fact, let super-agent David Falk tell it: "I think [fixing the NBA system is] going to be very, very extreme, because I think the times are extreme." Salaries are out of control, teams are losing money and the imminent end of the current collective-bargaining agreement is putting the 2010-11 NBA season in jeopardy. Sorry, but ain't no Krypto-Nate stopping that.
So, what's the solution? The NBA will always have its loyalists, but we have a suggestion that should be familiar to anybody who's suffered through a declining relationship: Distance yourself now before the heartbreak, and start seeing other people. Or, in this case, another league. Yup, the NHL. Yup, ice hockey. Look, we understand that most of you are indifferent about, if not openly hostile to, following the NHL, but the time is right to give the league another chance. Read on for our top 5 reasons why it may be time to jump ship on the NBA...
ISSUE: The NBA's soft salary cap = overpaid scrubs, big-market favoritism; the NHL's hard salary cap = proportionate contracts, competitive balance.
• The two athletes pictured above were in the news last Thursday, but for decidedly different reasons: The sports world was still abuzz about the previous night's Alexander Ovechkin wonder goal; on the same day, the NBA trading deadline expired, meaning the usual desperate shuffling of salary-cap-killers like Larry Hughes, who was traded to the Knicks. The point in all this? Ovechkin'the NHL's undisputed best player, who's earned millions of dollars for both his franchise and the league'is in the first year of a contract that pays him $9 million per year. Hughes'a mediocre journeyman and funny-blog-inspirer'is guaranteed roughly $13.2 million for each of the next two years. Hughes is not an aberration, but an example of why the NBA is looking at a no-exception, no-luxury-tax hard cap, which will result in players like him losing money. Armageddon looms.
Click NEXT to see reason #4...
4. GOING TO NBA GAMES DOESN'T MAKE SENSE IN A RECESSION.
The NBA...Where Empty Seats Happen.
ISSUE: The NBA has whored itself out to corporate interests, making it less accessible to the common fan.
• Sports leagues' attendance figures are like an actress's weight'they'll only give you a number that makes them look good. Unsurprisingly, both the NBA and NHL are reporting increases in attendance this season. But look beneath the fudged statistics and you'll see a steady upswing in NHL attendance versus a decline in the NBA. In fact, the NHL is outdrawing the NBA in six out of 10 markets where NHL and NBA teams share an arena (source). Granted, the NHL can't compete with the NBA in terms of TV revenue. But whereas the NHL has largely retained its blue-collar fan base in spite of growing ticket prices, the NBA's luxury-box, corporate-flunky identity (been to a Knicks game lately?) has alienated some of its core fans. We can't all be Jay-Z.
Click NEXT to see reason #3...
3. THE NBA NEEDS TO CONTRACT, NOT EXPAND.
The THUNDER??? What is this, indoor lacrosse?
ISSUE: The NBA keeps getting bigger, even while existing franchises are looking to relocate.
• It's an oft-heard, derisive criticism of the NHL: The league has too many teams, in places like Phoenix and Nashville where nobody cares about hockey. And yes, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has been over-ambitious in his quest to popularize the game in the States. But in reality, the "too-many-teams" tag has become a more apt descriptor for the NBA. Since 2000, the NHL has added two teams and relocated none; meanwhile, the NBA has added a team (the woeful Charlotte Bobcats), while relocating two others (Seattle-to-Oklahoma City and Charlotte-to-New Orleans). This year, the Sacramento Kings are facing a relocation crisis, while the cost-cutting New Orleans Hornets may be moving...again. Maybe it's time to stop sucking David Stern off and start asking the megalomaniac some tough questions. Like: Are you really serious about expanding into Europe? Seriously?
Click NEXT to see reason #2...
2. NBA GAMEPLAY IS GETTING WORSE.
The state of the NBA in :45 seconds.
ISSUE: NBA officiating is a farce; the regular season is an endless bore.
The Godfather Commissioner Stern largely succeeded in making the Tim Donaghy scandal disappear, but skepticism lingers. Conspiracy or not, there's no doubt that referees have a disproportionate effect on the outcome of NBA games; you might as well write down the NBA's final four (Boston, Cleveland, San Antonio and L.A.) in pen right now. The comically imbalanced salary structure'that's $42 million man Corey Maggette up there'inevitably leads to a sense of entitlement and lackadaisical play. The main NBA topic this year has been the countdown to the 2010 free agent bonanza. When teams like the Knicks are already openly jockeying for LeBron, Wade and Bosh, it further cheapens a regular season that's about as compelling as the last two minutes of an NBA game. Which is to say, pointlessly drawn out and interminably long. Hockey, on the other hand? The hard cap has resulted in more of a meritocracy; the speed and aggressive nature of the game precludes players from "taking the night off"; star players don't get the "LeTravel" bias; and, of course: instant karma. You really need to get familiar.
Click NEXT to see the #1 reason why the NHL is better than the NBA!
1. THE NHL HAS ALEXANDER THE GREAT.
The Russian Machine never breaks.
ISSUE: Alexander Ovechkin is the most exciting athlete in pro sports.
• For all its faults, the NBA has never lacked for watchable talent. But if you've been steadfastly ignoring the NHL, you've been missing out on the most electrifying athlete in sports today. LeBron's great, Kobe's cool, but Alexander Ovechkin is must-see TV. Every game, the Washington Capitals left wing does something spectacular. Literally, every game. The common complaint about watching hockey on television'that it's too hard follow the puck'has been all but negated in the HD era. If you can't keep up now, it's your problem, not the league's. Yeah, the NHL is relegated to the Versus network (and NBC on weekends), but it's still basic cable. Next Ovechkin national TV appearance is March 16 at Atlanta, on Versus. Ovie is well worth your time'and he makes $4 million less than Larry Hughes.