With no NBA right now die hard NBA fans are stuck reading about everything that is wrong with the sport they love and the reasons that they don’t get to see it. We read about new CBAs, sustainable systems, hard caps, soft caps, flex caps and the need for parity. We can only dream about how this season would play out. In between dreams right now I have read so much about how the NBA needs to fix the system to increase parity like the NFL has that I am sick.
I have always thought if there is so much parity in the NFL then why do I feel like after 5 games the Kansas City Chiefs season is over. The Bengals have a chance at the playoffs by their record, but nobody thinks they are near as good as the Steelers and the Ravens so they aren’t going anywhere in reality. We have heard the term anybody can beat anybody on any given Sunday, but we never hear anything about parity on a Tuesday night in the NBA if the Kings beat the Lakers. I am one who doesn’t think the NFL really has parity. Parity is a myth. Parity is what we talk ourselves into believing about this league that everything is so close that every week the difference between winning and losing is inches. We look at a football team that is 7-9 and we can focus in on three games that they had a shot to win and came up short at the end. In football more than any other sport we talk ourselves into the reasons that team is really a 10-6 team and should have made the playoffs.
We don’t do that in any other sport. Because in the other sports there is time for the cream to rise to the top. We don’t hear baseball people talk about a team with 6 blown saves as a team that should have 6 more wins. Is it true they could have won those games? Of course, but things will balance out and we don't take wins away for close wins. Close doesn't count in sports. If it did I guess we should change the saying to, “Close only counts in horse shoes, hand grenades, and why our football team is better than their record.” Sports are great when the closer gets out of the bases loaded jam to save the game. Sports are great when Joe Montana finds Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone. Sports are great when Jordan hits the shot over Craig Ehlo. Do you want to know why Robert Horry is a house hold name to sports fans? It isn’t because he was a good defender and solid role player. It is because he was Big Shot Rob. He was a guy that could rise to the moment. He was a winner and winners make sports great, not close losers. Heartbreaking loses can make compelling stories but winners are the reason we watch. So we can pretend parity is why we like the NFL and the thing we want the NBA to have, but it is a myth. You have close games in ever sport. If you only play a 16 game season you would have parity in every sport. The NBA doesn’t need parity; the NBA just needs more people willing to be winners.
The game that is supposed to have the most parity is the NFL, yet they play a 16 game season. Through 16 games everyone would be closer together in the standings. If the NBA or MLB could have cut last season to 16 games it would look like it had parity also. The football is a 100 meter sprint and the baseball is a marathon. (I guess that Basketball is a ½ marathon.) Comparing how close teams finish in that different of a race is really irrelevant.
If this year’s baseball season would have had a 16 game season we would be having a different World Series. This baseball season would have had the Yankees win the AL East and the Rangers win the AL West, but the Indians would have won the Central and we would have a tie for the wild Card between the Royals and the Angels. The Royals making the playoffs? That has to be a league with parity. In the NL you would have had the Phillies in the East, the Reds in the Central and the Rockies in the West with the Marlins as your wild card team. Doesn’t that look a lot different than what happened over an entire season? Plus even better each division would have been up for grabs and there would have been about 10 teams that were only a game out of the playoffs. Looks like parity.
With the 16 games applied to the NBA standings, The Spurs, Mavs, Lakers where the top 3 teams in the NBA west, but then was the Utah Jazz. That’s right with a 16 game season the Jazz would have been the comeback kids heading into the playoffs. The Hornets, Thunder, and Nuggets, would be next and then you have The Suns and Portland fighting for the last spot. In the East you have both the Magic and Celtics at 12-4 and then Hawks. The 9-7 Heat were not looking like title contenders (remember bump gate?), the 9-7 Bulls were middle of the pack. The 76ers were 3-13. They finished the year going 38-28 playing their way into the playoffs. With an NFL like season they would have been playing for the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. I think the Eagles wish they had more time to play themselves into contention like the Sixers did last year.
Every league that only plays 16 games would have some sort of parity from year to year. The NBA, like Baseball, is harder to turn your team around than in football. In the NFL a team that wasn’t that good could sneak into the playoffs, because they had a favorable schedule and then played a weak division (NFC West?) so on paper they are a playoff team, but maybe they had a gapping hole that would show itself in a longer season. While if a team takes a while to come together, in the NFL you don’t have that time, but the St. Louis Cardinals just showed that it can happen and that the team could end up winning the whole thing, but in a parity system like the NFL the Cards would be at home playing cards instead of hosting the Rangers for the World Series this week.
To end the Parity myth, think about the playoff format. Anytime you have a playoff system that is lose one and you’re done in the playoffs makes the field more wide open. Look at last years NBA playoffs. The Lakers would have lost in the first round to the Hornets. The Bulls would have lost to the Hawks in round 2. Miami lost game one to Chicago, before they figured out how to beat the Bulls. The Mavs lost game one to the Heat, before Dirk reigned supreme. So the NBA would have had more different champions over the last 30 years if they adopted the NFL’s playoff format. So any league can have more parity if they want. Football doesn’t have a magic formula for parity, but more a magic calendar. With an 82-game season and with a playoff series format, parity is chasing a dream. Kind of like the only place NBA is being played right now.