Every sports organization believes in something. For baseball, it’s tradition. For the NFL, it’s parity. The NBA believes in Major. Media. Markets. Now there’s some logic in this. Pro basketball is a niche sport played by minorities and Europeans, making it an intrinsically harder sell than baseball or football. Without a solid position in major markets, they’d be stuck on channel 673 like hockey.
That’s why over the years you’ve seen an allegedly rigged lottery to get Patrick Ewing to New York and any number of trades that sent stars like Pau Gasol and Chris Paul to big market teams from small market teams. The big market team gets a star player in their prime and in return the small market team gets two players-you’ve-already-forgotten and a box of old bobblehead dolls from 1997.
Indeed, the NBA probably wouldn’t have small market teams at all if the big market teams didn’t need someone to beat so they could “earn” their way into the playoffs. The Globetrotters had the Washington Generals. The Knicks have the Washington Wizards. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
If the NBA had their way about it, they’d probably have slots like the BCS does, where teams from the power markets in each conference get six automatic berths and those from the small markets get the remaining two. Unfortunately, they didn’t think of that. The BCS did. So the best the NBA can do is rig the deck with player transfers that make sure that teams in the hinterland get a player or two to make things interesting (I’m talking about you Ricky Rubio) but not enough to win. Stars who do their time in small markets and keep their mouths shut are usually rewarded by being traded to top 12 markets, like Kevin Garnett and Lebron James. (Unless you’re a pain in the butt about it, in which case you stay in Utah.)
As I said, the NBA doesn’t officially have twelve slots for the big market teams in the playoffs, but most years it still manages to finesse to the same result. This year in the Western Conference, four of the eight teams were from Top 12 markets—LA, LA, Golden State, and Houston. In the Eastern Conference, it was even better, with six of the eight from Top 12 markets—Miami, NY, Brooklyn, Chicago, Boston and Atlanta. That’s ten big market teams out of sixteen. The only big markets shut out were DC, Detroit, Dallas and Philadelphia.
Now in a perfect NBA world, a little egalitarianism is more than enough. Major. Media. Markets. So the ideal situation would be if in the second round all the little city teams were gone, and the league could get down to business negotiating with ABC, TNT, and ESPN for rights for the 2014 playoffs.
Ahhhh, but it’s not a perfect world.
In the Western Conference, three of the four big market teams lost. LA (2nd largest US market,) LA (2), Houston (10) and Denver (17) are sitting at home watching Bones reruns. Only Golden State (5) remains to compete against San Antonio (31) Oklahoma City (46,) and Memphis (45.) And Golden State is a team that lives and dies with the three, which in the playoffs usually means dies.
In the Eastern Conference, things are going a little better. Yes, three of the six big market teams lost—Brooklyn (1), Boston (6) and Atlanta (11), but two lost to other big market teams, which has to be the case if you overload the bracket. Indeed, only one team outside the Top 12 is still around in the Eastern Conference, lowly Indianapolis (29).
Right now, the BEST matchup the NBA could hope for is New York, Chicago or Miami vs. Golden State. If the NBA’s dream series is the New York Knicks vs. the LA Lakers, their nightmare series is Indianapolis vs. Memphis. (Well, actually Milwaukee vs. Memphis probably would have been worse, but that’s moot.)
It’s not likely, but it could happen because yesterday Indianapolis beat New York in the first game of their series. They won on the road. Also, Melo is hurt and JR Smith woke up Sunday and realized that he’s JR Smith, which means he’s back to clanging shots and dogging it on defense. Indianapolis has the advantage for the rest of the series.
Of course, the NBA still has a few tricks up their Italian-suited sleeves. Luckily, they get to put their own team on the court, too, and since playoff games are often decided by a handful of points and possessions, a few timely foul and possession calls can still right the ship.
In other words, don’t panic yet, Melo. You’ve got a friend.