Pounding the Rock, this is a post that is going to be dead serious. I've said it before recently and made my jokes here and there. However, this is something that is killing professional sports everywhere and making small market teams annually irrelevant with a few exceptions here and there (the San Antonio dynasty, the Giants World Series out of nowhere, the Rays success, the San Jose Sharks recent successes, etc)
Now then, let me first say that I'm going to be talking about sports economics and revenue. Two topics I'll admit that I'm not very knowledgeable about. I don't know exact figures and have no interest and pulling up numbers. What I can give is the trends that you don't need to be part of Wall Street to know and comprehend. I apologize if this gives my post less ground to stand on but it's just my way of doing things.
Without further adieu, LeBron Syndrome diagnosed and why the small markets will continue to suffer without a hard cap.
LeBron James is not the only case of this by any means. However, he's the one most fresh in our minds. He's the most extreme case of the Syndrome I've so named after him. How his departure took a team from best record in the East and perennial contender, to worst record in the NBA. So let's look at just what I mean by LeBron Syndrome.
Cleveland was a struggling small market team. I can't really recall any standout players on their roster, nor any true moments of greatness. Their revenue was little and their fanbase outside of their state small. They needed a savior and bad. And on draft night, a high school phenom was picked to be that man.
For several years Lebron James gave Cleveland a golden age. High seeding in the playoffs, deep playoff runs, even a Finals appearance where another small market team would sweep them. The money swarmed in as LeBron became the hottest name in the game since Shaq, or Kobe, or Wade. And for a while things were great. Their star was happy winning and being a god-like figure in sports, and the team was pulling in enough money to keep him signed and happy. Then came the undoing.
Money and winning mixed together horribly.
LeBron was getting ludicrous amounts of money and was racking up the wins for the Cavs. However, he wanted a championship and a good team around him to get him there. I can't blame him for this. That should be every player's goal first and foremost. Winning titles. But it would seem LeBron had taken a bit way too much money.
Here is the LeBron syndrome in all its terrifying might. A superstar high-caliber player lands in a small market team. He begins to win and taste some of that championship gold. He demands a great supporting cast to get the championship. However, the team has no money to keep the superstar signed AND get a great supporting cast. The superstar demands a trade or bolts to free agency and the small market team crumbles.
Sure enough, LeBron bolts to go play in Miami with two other "star" players (Bosh is not a star to me by any means, Wade is still a superstar though). He takes less with Miami because they're a beautiful big market team and is willing to so that two other massive contracts can be allowed. Miami goes to the Finals while Cleveland is left to crawl in the mud of being the worst team in the NBA.
Sure fans get excited when some young stud their small market team drafted is awesome and great. Hang on to that excitement as long as you can, because it won't be there long (looking at you Thunder fans with Kevin Durant Give it four or five years). One day when your team's star is enough get to Conference Finals or even the Finals but come up fruitless, they'll ask for more around them. And it'll be that very star that is the reason the team can't get that more.
Teams like the Lakers and Celtics will pretty much always be at or near the best in their respective conferences because they've been so successful and have such a huge fanbase that they'll constantly have money to keep landing and KEEPING great players. Meanwhile the Kings and Bobcats of the NBA will occasionally lay a golden egg or two, but they won't be able to keep those golden eggs from the large market farmers to ever become anything more than the lowly chickens of the NBA farm. Running around scratching at the dirt and hopefully one day laying another golden egg before the farmers scoop them up again.
There must be a hard cap to stop this. This foolish soft cap, luxury tax stuff will fool many fans out there. Those big market teams wouldn't dare have to pay the luxury tax. It's not like jersey and concession stand sales don't already cover all that. I'm sure the Heat LeBron jerseys sold enough this year alone to cover the hit LeBron's first big extension will create.
Soft caps like this create anarchy to where the Lakers can theoretically afford a team of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, one of Lamar Odom or Andrew Bynum, and Ron Artest. Are you freaking kidding me? It's no wonder they keep dominating almost non-stop. Or the Knicks could probably afford Chris Paul, Amare Stoudamire, and Carmelo Anthony. Those guys are so greedy that even Wario would be green with envy.
Is it practical? Probably not because thank god being over the "cap" means you can't throw out a max contract. But it would be as simple as saying, "Chris Paul, how's about you come play for the Knicks for the MLE. We'll initially sign you for the MLE so we follow the cap guidelines, then extend your contract and pay you more as soon as you get here. And we'll also make that MLE one year. So even if we lie you can just tank and hurt the team then leave next year or get traded." Honestly, I couldn't pass up that offer and I hate the LeBron Syndrome. Does this happen, not really. I don't know if it ever has. But I don't see why not. I'm sure you guys know better with that stuff, but you get what I'm saying.
More often than not, these powerhouse teams stack up their rosters by getting the superstars right when they're just about to demand that trade, or the supporting cast, or the huge contract. Trade them over to a big market before they break your bank, let them deal with that $100 million contract. Oh wait, they can!
It's absolutely insane. Now the cap needs to be higher than the $45 million those greedy owners are throwing around. But there has to be a hard cap in place. There just has to be. No more of this luxury tax crap where it's okay to be over the cap if you can pay for it. If you're over the cap, you can't sign any more players except for maybe your rookies.
MLE for over the cap, out the window. Why should these huge markets still get a good mid-level player when they're already stacked? There absolutely must be a hard cap of some kind. The small markets need a fighting chance before they go bankrupt or have to move because they can't pay their players and their new stadium lease. Especially in this kind of economy, and especially when basketball is still a secondary sport.
The only sport where all or almost all franchises seem to be pulling in a sizable profit is the NFL. And football is always so consistently balanced. Why? Many years of hard cap with this past uncapped year being one of the few years in recent history that there was no cap or a soft cap. At least that I'm aware of. There's not quite as much learning curve from college to NFL and more overall talent for the sport.
I'm not a sports history buff, I'm not a sports economist, but I don't have to be to see that there's only a handful of teams in the NBA that are consistently good each and every year with few exceptions (due to many variables that can cause down turns no matter how big your pocket book is), and that the small market teams are suffering mightily.
There needs to be a hard cap, there just has to be. If not, we might as well just get rid of the small markets. LeBron Syndrome is killing the NBA. Sure ratings will go up, sure the sports's popularity will go up, but for how long after there's only 10 teams left? How long after the small markets go bankrupt? How long after there's no more underdogs? After there's no exciting or emotional storylines?
Like I said though, I don't know the money or the history so I might be completely wrong. Maybe the hard cap is inevitable (seems to be) and that all this hypothetical stuff will have been for nothing. Maybe this has been going on forever won't ever come to the worst possible future. Maybe small markets have more of a chance than I'm aware of. But there's no denying the crying shame that is the injustice that the small markets have suffered through, that Cleveland has suffered through, that Orlando has and will probably suffer through, that the small market MLB teams are still suffering through, that the small market NHL teams are suffering through, so on and so forth.
LeBron Syndrome. It gives you false hopes for glory and stability, but only brings the exact opposite. For the sake of the small markets, even if I hate those small market teams, I'm hoping for a cure. They need a fighting chance or else fall into unending irrelevancy.