When NBA Commissioner Adam Silver thinks about parity in professional sports, he sees the NFL as the gold standard. But he can’t help but chuckle that the New England Patriots are such a constant presence in the Super Bowl.
For the last four seasons the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers have met in the Finals. That will change this year – the Cavaliers without LeBron James are one of the NBA’s worst teams. But the Warriors seem poised to head back to the Finals for a fifth straight year.
“If you look at the last, I think, 11 years, we've had seven different teams win championships,” Silver said Saturday. “But if you look back to the first 60 years of this league, I think three teams — the Lakers, Celtics, and the Bulls — won 60 percent of all championships. So, progress.”
The conversation about NBA parity has centered around big versus small markets. Particularly vexing for small-market teams has been the trend of superstar players leaving for bigger markets or other stars with whom they can partner. Anthony Davis, the most recent, put the Lakers, Clippers and New York Knicks on his original list of preferred destinations, along with one small-market team, Milwaukee.
Silver mentioned Milwaukee, Oklahoma City and Denver to illustrate that the NBA’s small-market teams are competitive. Oklahoma City, after all, kept Paul George despite his prior insistence that he planned to sign with the Lakers.
“In our cap system, as you well know, it's a tax-based system, which creates penalties, in essence, for going over the salary cap, but you still end up with fairly large disparities in salaries from one market to another,” Silver said. “And often that disparity is not based on the size of the market. In certain cases, it's based on revenue generation, which doesn't always perfectly correlate. In some cases, it's based on a willingness of a team to become unprofitable.”
Away from L.A.
Blake Griffin and D’Angelo Russell sat near each other during Saturday’s media day, All-Star teammates who have taken trades out of Los Angeles in stride.
Griffin, the longtime Clippers star, has had the best season of his career for the Detroit Pistons, averaging 26.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 5.4 assists. But most importantly, he’s played in 54 of 56 games and is as healthy as he’s been in the last five seasons.
It’s Griffin’s first All-Star appearance since 2015.
“It was about being healthy, to get that opportunity,” Griffin said. “Being able to work out all summer and being able to really be ready, coming into the season prepared, and be able to work on some things to expand my game was really important for me.”
Russell, once a second overall pick by the Lakers, is making his first All-Star appearance. In his second season in Brooklyn, he’s emerged as a top playmaking point guard, averaging 20.3 points and 6.6 assists for the surprising Nets.
“When opportunity presents itself in this league, I think you really have to take advantage of it,” Russell said. “I definitely got a second opportunity to play basketball and be a professional. And that’s what I’m doing.”
Basketball in Africa
The NBA and FIBA plan to launch a club league in Africa, called the Basketball Africa League, which will include 12 teams from across Africa.
They plan to hold a qualification tournament this year with teams from Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia. No more than two teams from each country can qualify.
Silver said former president Barack Obama would be part of the initiative.
“I’ve always loved basketball because it’s about building a team that’s equal to more than the sum of its parts,” Obama said on Twitter. “Glad to see this expansion into Africa because for a rising continent, this can be about a lot more than what happens on the court.”