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Maybe comparing MLB and the NBA is not the best idea

Feb 25, 2014, 8:00 AM EST

Basketball

Shawn Marion of the Dallas Mavericks made some comments about how the NBA should get rid of its salary cap. His justification was that baseball does it and it’s just fine, so why not the NBA?

I don’t know nearly enough about the NBA to say whether it actually could survive without a cap. Team construction and television money and a whole host of other things in basketball are mostly foreign concepts to me, so even if I am philosophically predisposed to hate salary caps, I can’t offer any insight as to how that would work — or if it should even be considered — in the NBA.

But I do know that Yahoo!’s Kelly Dwyer’s rebuttal to Marion is off base:

Dearest Shawn, “baseball does it” should never be a reason for just about anything sports-related. I love the game, but MLB has undergone decades’ worth of labor strife, strikes, salary disparities, drug woes, collusion, and out and out free market chaos. Bad ownership and front office machinations are part of the reason why, but the (decreasing, but still significant) gulf between the haves and have-nots in baseball is one of the reasons why you haven’t seen some certain teams in their ever-expanding playoff bracket for years.

Hurm. That seems odd to me. Let me grab a reference book here and see what we can see:

  • LABOR: The NBA had three lockouts and/or strikes since baseball’s last work-stoppage: 2011 (161 days); 1998-99 (204 days); and 1995 (79 days);
  • DRUGS: The NBA’s drug-testing system has been described as  “inadequate,” “pathetic” and “a joke,” by federal lawmakers. There is no blood testing as exists in Major League Baseball and the NBA’s program is less transparent than most other leagues’ programs. It is widely assumed that marijuana use among NBA players is an everyday occurrence.
  • SALARY DISPARITY: Baseball’s highest-paid player is Clayton Kershaw, who will make $30,714,286 in 2014. The NBA’s highest-paid player is Kobe Bryant, who will make $30,453,805. Baseball’s minimum salary is $500,000. The NBA’s minimum salary is $490,180. Clearly the salary disparity is chasm-like in baseball compared to the NBA.
  • COLLUSION: Baseball’s history here is shameful, but collusion on a large scale ended nearly 25 years ago and resulted in a massive settlement paid by owners to players as punishment. NBA Collusion may be more piecemeal, but it is reportedly pervasive. And no one really cares.
  • BAD FRONT OFFICES/OWNERSHIP: I tried to call my NBA-fan friends in Seattle for their insight, but they all committed suicide. My other NBA fan friends were too busy discussing the merits of tanking for draft picks to return my calls.
  • GULF BETWEEN HAVES/HAVE-NOTS: Nine NBA franchises have won titles in the past 34 years. Obviously basketball is a different sport than baseball and it’s much harder to create parity when a comparitively small number of players can determine an outcome, but Jesus tapdancin’ Christ, NINE TEAMS IN 34 YEARS.

Baseball is obviously not perfect. It has a load of problems, the sorts of which we talk about here everyday. And as I said, getting rid of the salary cap may be bad news for the NBA. Multiple teams were close to freakin’ folding before the cap was instituted with the 1983 labor agreement and the nature of the sport, its business model and competitive landscape is so thoroughly informed by salary cap concerns that scrapping it could disrupt everything in ways Shawn Marion hasn’t considered.

But I do know that putting the NBA and Major League Baseball together for purposes of an apples-to-apples comparison doesn’t tell us much. And, to be honest, doesn’t exactly put the NBA in the best light. So here’s an idea: let’s assess the respective leagues and sports on their own terms rather than engage in such unintentionally illuminating exercises as the one being attempted here, OK?

  1. Old Gator - Feb 25, 2014 at 8:09 AM

    And I suspect that if you threw Jeff Francoeur a basketball down and away, he would still swing at it and miss.

    • El Bravo - Feb 25, 2014 at 10:41 AM

      HA!

    • historiophiliac - Feb 25, 2014 at 10:48 AM

      No wonder Frenchy’s depressed.

    • dexterismyhero - Feb 25, 2014 at 11:29 AM

      Touche’.

    • Old Gator - Feb 25, 2014 at 11:32 AM

      Sorry, couldn’t resist. I hear Frenchy is a hell of a nice guy but, still, it’s Craig….

  2. tferr85 - Feb 25, 2014 at 8:14 AM

    Tim Donaghy.

    • drewsylvania - Feb 25, 2014 at 12:23 PM

      NBA reffing now is so corrupt, players aren’t even allowed to complain about it. It keeps me from watching the sport out of disgust.

  3. thedoubleentandres - Feb 25, 2014 at 8:26 AM

    Don’t go dragging the good name of marijuana use into this

    • historiophiliac - Feb 25, 2014 at 10:49 AM

      Would you like to buy some cookies?

      • thedoubleentandres - Feb 25, 2014 at 11:04 AM

        Yes please, giant talking cookie

      • jwbiii - Feb 25, 2014 at 11:38 AM

        Are they made of real Girl Scouts?

      • historiophiliac - Feb 25, 2014 at 11:41 AM

        Stop trying to make thin mints dirty!

      • ltzep75 - Feb 25, 2014 at 12:32 PM

        Historio:

        This is not about thin mints. We all know Samoa’s are, without a doubt, the best of the girl scout cookies. Samoa’s are the cookie equivalent of a nice slice of pie.

      • historiophiliac - Feb 25, 2014 at 12:56 PM

        Oh, no, you didn’t.

      • jwbiii - Feb 25, 2014 at 5:07 PM

        This sounds like a bad decision for the cookie selling business.

        http://news.yahoo.com/girl-scouts-cookies-colorado-pot-shops-134107732.html

  4. chill1184 - Feb 25, 2014 at 8:26 AM

    I agree that all four major sports should do away with salary but Dwyer’s reasoning against are laughable. All four leagues have their own set of problems no doubt but what annoys me to know end is the drug use charge. People get on MLB for its drug era but yet you never (or very rarely) that same standard applied to NFL for example.

    • The Dangerous Mabry - Feb 25, 2014 at 10:19 AM

      “I agree that all four major sports should do away with salary…”

      Methinks chill1184 owns a major sports franchise.

      • chill1184 - Feb 25, 2014 at 10:38 AM

        Edit function is needed on this blog

      • historiophiliac - Feb 25, 2014 at 10:50 AM

        Yea! I’m not gonna be the only one writing apology poems today.

  5. baccards - Feb 25, 2014 at 8:45 AM

    You get my vote for best line of the year “Jesus tapdancin’ Christ” I have been around for a long time and it is the best JC interjection I have encountered – but then I do not get out much. Original or lifted from another? Perhaps it is a quote familiar to many but it is my first exposure…I will use it religiously.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Feb 25, 2014 at 11:38 AM

      No idea where I heard it from. Maybe “South Park?”

      • brkviking - Feb 26, 2014 at 7:20 AM

        Blues Brothers dude, though SP uses it a lot.

  6. sdelmonte - Feb 25, 2014 at 8:47 AM

    My take:

    Mets fan me: Another long season perhaps, but the future looks pretty good. If only they could spend more.

    Knicks fan me: Future? What future? They don’t have a draft pick till my mortgage is paid off, they’re billing the team around a one dimensional player, and they have no idea how to deal with contracts! Why am I even watching??

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Feb 25, 2014 at 11:03 AM

      Mets and Knicks? You can’t be a Jets fan too, can you?

      • sdelmonte - Feb 25, 2014 at 11:07 AM

        Giants. Though I oddly manage to root for the Jets as my second team. So one source of recent sports joy in my life

        But also an Islanders fan. A team with a future but also with a GM who can’t tell a hockey stick from a bowling ball, and a ton of bad luck.

  7. sfm073 - Feb 25, 2014 at 9:09 AM

    Sports leagues should just enforce spending maximums and spending minimums and do away with the salary cap and all of it’s silly rules.

    • Liam - Feb 25, 2014 at 9:12 AM

      What’s the difference between a salary cap and a spending maximum?

    • chadjones27 - Feb 25, 2014 at 11:14 AM

      football (NFL) has a salary cap, and within that there is a minimum salary all clubs must meet. Even MLB doesn’t have a minimum.

  8. babyfarkmcgeezax - Feb 25, 2014 at 9:12 AM

    The NBA has some of the best writing on television. The scripted championships for LeBron were Oscar worthy.

    • Old Gator - Feb 25, 2014 at 12:08 PM

      Yeah, right up there with the moon landings.

  9. florida76 - Feb 25, 2014 at 9:22 AM

    We can talk all day about the nine teams winning NBA titles over the last 34 years, but that’s because of the better managed teams acquiring talent, and there has also been a variety of teams in those Finals. For teams like the Milwaukee Bucks, etc. it’s largely bad management.

    And there will never be a San Antonio Spurs in today’s MLB, a smaller market team which has remained among the elite for many years. Salary caps are a smart business formula, and the NFL is living proof. It’s also worth noting the rise in popularity of the NHL since they instituted a salary cap.

    • Paul Zummo - Feb 25, 2014 at 9:41 AM

      The Spurs got lucky, as I mentioned below, because Tim Duncan landed in their laps. Other than them, point out to me a mid-market team that has had any level of sustained success. Meanwhile the Rays and A’s (though the A’s did experience a bit of a dip between 2007-2011) continue to be among the best teams in baseball. Sure you have teams like the Pirates and Royals that have struggled, but that’s also been a management issue. And how are the Cubs, Mets, and other big city baseball teams doing?

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Feb 25, 2014 at 11:10 AM

      It’s also worth noting the rise in popularity of the NHL since they instituted a salary cap.

      It’s so popular they have a year long lockout every 3-4 years. It’s so popular that ESPN dropped it’s contract to air games

    • asimonetti88 - Feb 25, 2014 at 1:46 PM

      I think it has a lot more to do with how basketball works. An individual player can affect a game so much more. If you have a Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Tim Duncan, you’re going to win at least one title. In baseball, just because you have a Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr, doesn’t mean you will win, because one player can’t change the game quite as much. Even if you’re a huge game changer like those guys.

      But yeah, there’s some pretty bad management in NBA.

      • Kevin S. - Feb 25, 2014 at 5:52 PM

        Mike Trout sobs through October.

    • btilghman - Feb 25, 2014 at 2:14 PM

      “And there will never be a San Antonio Spurs in today’s MLB, a smaller market team which has remained among the elite for many years.”

      The St. Louis Cardinals would beg to differ.

  10. chip56 - Feb 25, 2014 at 9:23 AM

    The NBA lacks competitive spirit. The best players don’t want to play against each other like they did in the 80s and 90s, now they want to all be on the same team in party cities like Miami, New York and LA. The NBA, unlike MLB, has a very strong, recent history of players running the franchise to the point of costing coaches their jobs…whether it was Kobe in LA, Kidd (as a player) with the Nets, Deron Williams with the Jazz or Carmelo with the Knicks – the inmates often run the asylum.

    And there is a pervasive thug culture in the NBA that you don’t see in other sports.

    • 18thstreet - Feb 25, 2014 at 9:39 AM

      Pervasive thug culture. I wonder what he means by that. Let’s ask Richie Ignonito if the NFL has that. Or Michael Vick. Or Aaron Hernandez.

      • chip56 - Feb 25, 2014 at 9:45 AM

        There are bad seeds in every environment. The difference is that the NFL roughly employs roughly 1,700 players whereas the NBA employs approximately 450 and yet the number of times you see NBA players in trouble with the law is just about the same as with NFL players.

        So while there are awful human beings in both sports – I would say that based on percentages, there’s a larger percentage of NBA players who fit that category than NFL players.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Feb 25, 2014 at 11:14 AM

        yet the number of times you see NBA players in trouble with the law is just about the same as with NFL players.

        When’s the last time an NBA player killed someone, whether intentionally (A Hernandez) or unintentionally (Josh Brent)? The last I can remember is the Charlotte Hornets player in ’00.

        Or served time in Federal prison like M Vick or J Lewis? Or been suspended for a year and served jail time for firing a gun in a club like P Burress? Or under indictment for a murder investigation like R. Lewis and M. Harrison?

    • blabidibla - Feb 25, 2014 at 10:03 AM

      Didn’t you read the Sherman memo? You can’t use the “Th” word anymore.

      • 18thstreet - Feb 25, 2014 at 10:38 AM

        Well know what Chip meant.

    • pipkin42 - Feb 25, 2014 at 10:43 AM

      #scorchinghottake

    • historiophiliac - Feb 25, 2014 at 10:53 AM

      Thunder up!

  11. Paul Zummo - Feb 25, 2014 at 9:38 AM

    No NBA writer and/or fan should ever be allowed to discuss competitive disparity in regards to any other major sport. As Craig points out, the NBA has been the least competitive of the four major sports in terms of titles won by different teams, and it’s not even close. And that masks just how truly noncompetitive most of the teams have been for years. The entire Eastern Conference outside of two teams is a complete joke, and that’s been the case for years now. In reality, there are about eight franchises that have any hope of winning a title in the near future.

    The fact of the matter is that the stars prefer to play in the glamour cities, so the mid-market teams have no shot of hanging on to their elite players once they hit free agency, and in the NBA its’s the stars that make your team go. Every now and then a team gets lucky, as the Spurs did in not only landing Tim Duncan but in the fact that he was content to stay there. Thus far Oklahoma City has also been somewhat fortunate in that their star, Kevin Durant, is not looking to split for the bright lights of LA, New York, or somewhere like that.

    But hey, every few years teams like the Wizards, Cavs, Grizzlies, and a whole bunch of other teams get to sneak into the playoffs as a six seed or lower and immediately get ousted in four games in the first round, so go NBA!

    • asimonetti88 - Feb 25, 2014 at 1:56 PM

      “The fact of the matter is that the stars prefer to play in the glamour cities, so the mid-market teams have no shot of hanging on to their elite players once they hit free agency”

      You mean kind of like the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers in the MLB?

      • Paul Zummo - Feb 25, 2014 at 3:50 PM

        While that’s largely true, as was pointed out above, the difference is that in MLB having stars on your team doesn’t guarantee championships, whereas in the NBA a single player can completely make the difference between a team being a contender and a non-contender. Look at what happened to the Cavs just from losing one player. Conversely, there are a bunch of teams that have survived or even thrived after superstars left, a la the Mariners after they lost A-Rod/Griffey/Johnson, or the Cards after Pujols, etc.

      • asimonetti88 - Feb 25, 2014 at 3:53 PM

        “Look at what happened to the Cavs just from losing one player.”

        To be fair, they are also run by one of the biggest idiots in professional sports.

  12. blabidibla - Feb 25, 2014 at 10:04 AM

    “It is widely assumed that marijuana use among NBA players is an everyday occurrence.”

    You say that like it’s a bad thing.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Feb 25, 2014 at 11:40 AM

      Not morally. But if I ran a team I wouldn’t want my athletes smoking anything, be it tobacco, weed or whatever. It’s a matter of lung capacity, not some anti-drug attitude.

      • blabidibla - Feb 25, 2014 at 11:45 AM

        Ever hear about vaporizers?

      • moogro - Feb 25, 2014 at 1:36 PM

        That lung capacity stuff is old info. And as long as it not blunts, it is a mild bronchial dilator without residual phlegm or asthmatic indicators. You can eat it also.

  13. dowhatifeellike - Feb 25, 2014 at 10:15 AM

    Remove the salary cap and it’ll be that much easier to shift competitive balance. You only need 3 good players to dominate. When you only have 6 or 7 guys getting any real amount of minutes, landing one big name changes your team entirely. Putting a “big 3″ together will be much easier.

    • Kevin S. - Feb 25, 2014 at 11:23 AM

      Remove the individual max and you’ll really see some competitive balance!

      • dexterismyhero - Feb 25, 2014 at 11:35 AM

        Reposted on PBT.com!!!

  14. chunkala - Feb 25, 2014 at 1:23 PM

    And he we go, Craig hating a salary cap and taking the player’s side again. Why didn’t you just become an agent instead of a lawyer at a second hundred law firm?
    Anyway, let’s look at this post:
    First, you said it and should have stuck by the point that you don’t know the NBA.
    I can understand a few of Craig’s points, just not all, let’s look at 3.
    1) Salary disparity – he’s right but keep in mind that there are 2x as many MLB players as NBA. And a ton more MLB players that make way above average money yet are absolutely terrible on the field.. The NBA player salaries are skewed because the top players raise the league average up.
    2) Collusion – I always find it weird when people rail against collusion even though it happens in real world business everyday. Example: say Craig makes 150K (I’m not insulting him I just don’t know his market). He then turns out and decides that he’s worth $1m. NBC scoffs at it, so he goes to their other networks/outlets/sites and they all have the same reaction. If Craig was a pro athlete, he would claim collusion but in the real world quasi-collusion happens, not because of firms conspiring against workers but simply because everyone feels you are not worth the inflated price you feel that you are. No malice involved.
    3) Gulf of Haves/Have Nots – In NBA, one player with a nice supporting cast of two others can win a championship. However, in MLB, Kershaw can’t pitch 80-160 games a year. Craig knows this and putting this as a point is really reaching to prove one’s point.

    • Kevin S. - Feb 25, 2014 at 8:54 PM

      That’s not how collusion cases work. At all.

  15. bostonboresme - Feb 25, 2014 at 2:50 PM

    This is all bull. MLB is the MLB and the NBA is the NBA.

    which is exactly why I like MLB.

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