Everyone’s wrong but me.
Yup. It’s true. Everyone’s wrong but me. That’s why the number of people who read this blog has increased from 3 people to 4 people. Because I’m really crushing it over here. Cru shing it.
As the kids say… HOLLA! (The kids still say that, right?)
Back to the matter at hand.
To be clear, it’s not that other people are wrong about everything and I’m right about everything. If that were the case, I’d probably have more than 4 readers, and maybe even an advertiser or 2.
It’s just that other people are wrong about one particular thing, and it’s an important thing. So, congrats to all 4 of you – you’re about to learn something that nobody else knows!
Every time I hear people speculate about which free agents are going where, I hear some version of this argument: “Big markets don’t have an advantage over small markets. Superstars can play in Oklahoma City and still make the same money they’d make in bigger markets, like New York or L.A.” The “thinking” behind this argument – to the extent that “thinking” is the proper way to describe it – is that with the explosion of social media, and the easy access to NBA games for fans across the country, there’s no difference between being in a tiny market and a huge market, when measuring the earning potential of star free agents.
Certainly, social media and the easy access to NBA games for fans across the country have reduced the advantage big markets have over small markets, in terms of advertising money a star player can make. But, here’s the thing that only I – and now the 4 of you – seem to realize…
Since this fundamental change in the social media / cable television landscape, the extent to which superstars have been in small markets, as opposed to big markets, is a statistical fluke. If this statistical fluke ever corrects itself, and superstars wind up in big markets at least as often as we’d expect them to if they were randomly assigned to teams, I think there’s a whole new level of popularity the game can reach. It follows that there’s a whole new level of advertising dollars available to star players, if those star players begin gravitating to big markets rather than small markets.
To dig into that a bit, let’s look at data from the previous 5 seasons. The classifications of “big market” teams and “small market” teams can be a bit fluid. For purposes of this discussion, let’s focus on both the population of the city in which the team plays, and also the team’s historical pedigree. So, even if Phoenix and Philadelphia have close to the same population, let’s say that the Sixers’ history over generations – with long-time fans of many ages, as well as more fans dispersed across the country – makes them more of a “big market” team with an established fan base than the Suns. The Sixers had Wilt, and the Suns had Larry Nance. With all due respect to Larry Nance, Wilt’s numbers were much more impressive. (I’m talking about his numbers ON the court. What were you thinking about?)
From there, it’s not so controversial to say we’ll look at these four teams as our big market teams: Knicks (largest city), Lakers (2nd largest city), Bulls (3rd largest city), and Sixers (6th largest city), and we’ll look at these five teams as our small market teams: Cavaliers (51st largest city), Thunder (27th, with only a few years in OKC), Blazers (26th largest city), and Grizzlies (25th largest city, with a pedigree of being an expansion team which was born during the 1990’s in Vancouver, and subsequently moved to Memphis). This is not an exact classification of the 4 biggest market teams and the 4 smallest market teams, but it’s probably quite close, and it allows for a discussion that isn’t skewed by the overwhelming recent success of the Warriors and Spurs – neither of which is a clear “big market” or “small market” team. [Population statistics here, if you don’t believe me.]
How have those teams done during the previous 5 playoffs?
Knicks: won 0 playoff series
Sixers: won 1 playoff series, in ‘18.
Bulls: won 1 playoff series, in ‘15
Lakers: won 0 playoff series
Cavaliers: won 3 in ‘18, 3 in ‘17, 4 in ‘16, 3 in ’15 – total of 13
Thunder: won 2 in ‘16, and 2 in ’14 – total of 4
Blazers: won 1 in ‘16, and 1 in ’14 – total of 2
Grizzlies: won 1 in ‘15. [Last 5 playoff brackets available here, if you don’t believe me: ’18, ‘17, ‘16, ’15, ’14.]
That’s a total of 2 playoff wins in the past 5 seasons for the big-market teams and 20 playoff wins in the past 5 seasons for the small-market teams. The Cavaliers skew the numbers, but even if we drop them and also the “winningest” big-market team from the discussion, that’s 1 win for the big guys and 7 for the little guys.
The point is simple: playoff wins recently have been heavily skewed towards small market teams. If talent was randomly assigned each year to the 30 teams, the big-market teams would have done much better over the previous 5 years than they actually did. So, when people tell you that “because of social media, a player can be as popular in OKC as in NY,” they don’t know what they’re talking about. We can’t know that to be true until we see the Knicks and Lakers start winning as much as the Thunder and Cavs have been winning. I humbly submit that if Russ and PG were on the Knicks instead of the Thunder, they’d be selling a whole lot more sneakers, and they’d be much more valuable to Nike than they have been so far. By being more valuable to Nike, they would get paid more by Nike, and, just like that, would be making more money in a big market than they were able to make in a small market. Ya know – the thing everyone else says doesn’t happen.
So, in conclusion… Mr. Durant, sir… If you happen to be reading this blog post, please take notice! There’s a whole new level to your popularity that hasn’t been tapped into yet. If you come to New York, you can help your legacy, raise your profile, elevate the popularity of your league, and make a whole lot more money than you can make anywhere else.
I can’t quite guarantee it, but I assure that all 4 readers of this blog will be more than happy to buy themselves new KD sneakers if you come to NY. Just give us a chance to show you!
Thinking about role players is interesting. Boston got it right when it found Rondo and Perkins to complement their 3 stars. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem that Miami has found what it needs. I think of role players as guys who are useful because they do one or two things really well, but don’t have enough other skills to become stars. The key is putting a role player in a position to succeed – a situation where he is asked to do what he is good at and not asked to do what he is not good at. The Pistons asked Ben Wallace to rebound a play D – that worked and Wallace was great. Team USA asked him to score – that didn’t and Wallace looked like a guy who would have had trouble in the NBDL. Now thinking about Landry Fields, I don’t see what his one or two things that he does really well are. He’s ok at everything, but great at nothing. I think he was just lucky to fall into a situation on pre-Carmelo Knicks where his hustle and team play were valued and his skills were secondary. Carmelo changed the vibe on the Knicks. Team play isn’t the priority anymore, the individual is what’s valued now. The Knicks are about getting Carmelo his shots and A’mare his, and then worrying about the team after that. In this new environment, where Fields best skills are no longer valued, he’s lost and thus no longer a useful role player. If Fields can find a team that needs a hustle player or “glue” guy, he may still make it in the NBA.
Good stuff, Novak. I generally agree with you, up to your comment that, on the current Knicks “team play isn’t the priority, the individual is what’s valued now.” I don’t think we can test that statement until we see what the Knicks look like after surrounding Carmelo and Amar’e with the right kinds of role players (e.g. a center who rebounds and blocks shots on D, and operates down low on offense, a shooting guard who can shoot, and a healthy point guard who creates good shots for his ‘mates).