This is a story about parity. What is parity anyway? The dictionary defines it as; the state of being equal, or equality. So, in sports, when we talk about a league having parity we mean that there is a level of equality amongst the teams in that league. Teams that are considered bad are not so much worse than the good teams that they can’t compete.
So the first question is, does the NBA have parity? Yes. Critics of parity in the NBA, a list of people that previously included me, have said that the league doesn’t have parity. That the good teams dominate while the bad teams get screwed. The statistics show that this isn’t true. Teams haven’t been this close in a long time.
So why do fans perceive a lack of parity?
This is where we introduce the concept of championship parity. The level of equality amongst teams in the league in terms of their ability to win championships. If you look at the NBA from this angle the level of parity is laughable at best. Especially when compared to the two other popular sports in this country, football and baseball.
The chart above shows the list of NBA Finals representatives of the last twelve years. I just wanted to start with the 2000-20001 season to cover the last decade as it went into this decade, and ended up with twelve seasons, there’s no significance to choosing that many seasons. The numbers on the chart, next to the team names, indicate the number of different teams in that category counted from the top down.
You’ll see that over the past twelve seasons the eastern conference in the NBA has been represented by seven different teams. That’s pretty impressive. The western conference on the other hand is only represented by four teams, only three prior to the Thunder, which is beyond terrible if we’re talking about parity. The other teams of the western conference quite obviously don’t have the same ability to play for a championship. If they did, they’d be there. Out of the last twelve NBA season there have only been five different champions. Five. Over a decade of basketball played and only five different champions have been crowned.
That’s not parity.
There’s a reason why NFL fans feel like every year their team can win. That’s because it can.
A similar list of NFL seasons tells a different story entirely. The AFC looks like the NBA’s western conference with only five teams representing it in the Superbowl in a twelve year span (which is still more than the NBA’s western conference). Look at the NFC though! Ten different teams represented the NFC in the Superbowl. This has resulted in seven different Superbowl champions over the past twelve seasons.
What about baseball? The best teams can afford the best players. There’s no salary cap at all. If ever there was a system that was made for no parity at all it would be baseball, right? Wrong.
Very, very, wrong.
Amazingly, in the both the American League and National League, seven different teams have represented their teams over the past eleven years. The only thing more impressive than that there has been a whopping nine different champions in an eleven year span.
What does all of this have to do with Dwight Howard?
Everything. The NBA isn’t necessarily a top heavy league but only a few teams have a real shot at competing for a title. The Brooklyn Nets may have gotten stronger. The Denver Nuggets were able to get Andre Igoudala in part of the massive deal that sent Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic to the Los Angeles Lakers. However, the Nuggets aren’t title contenders. The Lakers are. The Lakers landed Steve Nash earlier in the summer and Dwight Howard puts them over the top without the Lakers having to give up Pau Gasol.
It seems that general managers in the NBA are just dumber than in any other league, and it’s the fan that suffers. Orlando fans now have watch their team be rebuilt from scratch with nothing really. They got back nothing in comparison with what they lost. The Lakers continue to stay dominant by forcing the issue to get a great player. The rest of the league, small market teams especially, can’t really compete with that. Particularly if they have a knuckle-headed GM which is a lot of NBA GMs.
When Dwight got moved to L.A. he made the Lakers stronger and, in so doing the rest of the league loses just a bit of that championship parity. In the face of the Lakers and Heat stockpiling weapons like it’s the arms race during the Cold War, what do other NBA fans root for? Do Pacers fans and Grizzlies fans really believe that their team is winning a title this year? Fans deserve to feel, at least once in a while, that supporting their team is going to pay off.
The NBA has great moments and spectacular athletes. It’s a league that can offer a lot of things. Unfortunately for the modern NBA fan, hope isn’t one of them.