Instead of fining Mark Cuban $600,000 on Wednesday for publicly admitting his team should purposely lose games, Commissioner Adam Silver should fix the fraudulent scam known as the National Bogus-ball Association’s regular season.
Somebody asked me the other day how it’s possible that the NFL’s Pro Bowl — as meaningless and ridiculed as it is — could possibly get a higher TV rating this year than the hyped-up, media-acclaimed NBA All-Star Game.
I’d like to say it’s because Orlando has done such a tremendous job hosting the Pro Bowl (which we have), but that’s not really the reason. My answer is simple: Even though most sports fans consider the Pro Bowl an insignificant postseason afterthought, it’s still more alluring than an NBA All-Star Game in the middle of a meaningless regular season when many fans have already checked out on their teams.
The NBA All-Star Game is one of the sport’s premier events featuring an array of the game’s biggest stars and it still drew just a 5.1 rating over the weekend, compared to the Pro Bowl’s 5.9 rating in late January. I believe it’s because the NBA’s tank-a-thon regular season is causing so many fan bases to become disengaged.
Yes, the NBA does well in overall national TV ratings because they have a few star-studded teams that carry the torch; the problem is there are way too many bad teams whose local fans have checked out.
Example: Thursday night’s first game back from the All-Star break between the awful Magic and the awful Knicks. Do you think either team’s fan base really cares who wins or loses? Of course not. They haven’t cared for weeks about the outcome of their games. In fact, they have been hoodwinked into rooting for their teams to lose for years at a time on the faint hope they will strike gold in the NBA draft lottery.
Cuban made the mistake of actually being honest earlier this week when he admitted he had dinner with a bunch of his players and told them, “Losing is our best option.”
Repeat after me: Any sport — or any company for that matter — that believes giving customers an inferior product for multiple years is a sound business plan is on the road to ruination. If Al Davis were running a franchise in today’s NBA, his mantra would be: “Lose as many games as possible to get a high draft pick, baby!”
“I don’t understand why we incentivize losing in our league and give teams that try to lose the chance to get the best players,” ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy told me once. “And I don’t understand why fans who actually spend their money to go to games actually celebrate being bad. It would be like me paying full price to see a Broadway show and celebrating getting eighth-string, B-level actors as long as there’s a chance I might get to see a good show in three years.”
The reason the NBA is selling this nonsense is because the league has been neutered by the players. The players have so much power that league owners can’t implement the needed changes — like a hard salary cap — to spread the wealth among all NBA teams.
A few years ago, when Stan Van Gundy was between jobs, he presented a logical plan to me that would fix the league. The Stan Plan started with eliminating the incentive to lose by doing away with the draft lottery altogether and instituting a plan called “The Wheel” in which every 30 years a franchise would get the first pick, the second pick, the seventh pick and on down the line.
He then said he would attempt to implement a hard salary cap like the NFL has. To get this accomplished, Stan said, he would give the players a greater percentage of revenue to make up for them agreeing to a hard cap.
Finally, he said he would eliminate the individual maximum salary limit and allow teams to pay superstars like LeBron whatever the market would bear. This would eliminate teams being able to fit three superstars under the hard cap because competing teams would bid exorbitant amounts to land one of these franchise-altering players. Thus, the stars would be dispersed throughout the league.
“If we reformed the draft, took away the individual maximum salary and had a hard cap,” Van Gundy said, “you’d literally have 30 teams that would have a legitimate chance to win the championship, they’d have no incentive for losing and you’d see much better games on a nightly basis.”
Maybe then the NBA All-Star Game would actually get a higher TV rating than the Pro Bowl and owners like Mark Cuban wouldn’t get fined $600,000 for simply being honest.