The first time I was in a major city I was 16. I went to an away game of the local Bundesliga club. It was in Munich. Before that, the biggest city I had seen was Karlsruhe, a city of about 250,000 inhabitants close to the village I come from. I had been following the NBA for several seasons before my trip to Munich. And in my imagination any random NBA city — say San Antonio, Phoenix, or Milwaukee — was at least of the caliber of either Munich, Hamburg, or Berlin. Chicago or Denver? Same thing, I thought. Both incredibly big cities with incredibly high skyscrapers. Way cooler than probably anything we have over here in Germany.
Also, being one of Germany’s big 3 cities didn’t mean they were good in terms of sports. And by that I mean: soccer. Because there is only one major sports league in Germany. Sure, Munich is host to the most successful club in Germany. But when I grew up, they didn’t always win the league and not all the best players went to Munich. They also played in cities like Dortmund, Bremen, Kaiserslautern, or Leverkusen. Berlin didn’t even have a team in the Bundesliga and Hamburg were a mid-table team. Why am I telling you this?
The idea of big or small-market franchises in the NBA was completely lost on me. When I started following the NBA, Jordan was in Chicago, Barkley was in Phoenix, Malone was in Salt Lake City, and Robinson in San Antonio. LA and Boston were no-superstar teams. For quite a number of years actually. Shaq becoming a Laker was the first time I experienced a superstar going to one of the major markets. But that was only one player.
In fact, I only got wind of what being a small-market franchise means when I started reading posts and comments on PtR. San Antonio is not a free-agent destination, I sometimes read. “Who cares”, I thought. “Team’s good enough.” the National TV is ignoring them, was another thing I remember reading more than once. “Bit of a first world problem maybe?” Something like that was my reaction.
Until very recently, I’m not sure I had fully grasped what it means to be a local fan of a small-market franchise in the NBA. I’m an out-of-continent fan of a small-market franchise after all. But earlier this week, dear Pounders, I felt very close to you in terms of what it means to be great as a franchise — but ignored as a market.
The Hall of Fame is something I normally don’t get too excited about, and I haven’t seen any footage of the ceremony last weekend. But I saw a post of NBA Deutschland in my newsfeed on Facebook which made me feel, well, very frustrated.
I knew this was going to be Kobe’s induction, first and foremost. And I have no problem with that. He’s an absolute legend that’s, tragically, no longer with us. And winning five titles in the NBA’s biggest market is a bigger sell than 5 titles in a small market, as Timmy did. But that’s good enough for being number two among the three, right? NBA Deutschland thought differently. Their post listed the three inductees as follows:
I have the highest respect for a defense-first superstar like Garnett. And if I ignore his nasty antics, he’s probably one of my favorite players of all time. But he lost both his playoffs matchups with Timmy, and their overall record against each other is 33-19 in Timmy’s favor. Rings, MVPs and Finals MVPs? Vastly in Timmy’s favor. So why is he named only third? Honestly, I needed some time before I heard the penny drop. And maybe it’s only now that I fully understand the meaning of “major market”.
Not only are major markets the likely place where super teams are formed through trades or free agency, or the desired outcome from a business-perspective for these teams to succeed — as Boston did in 2008. But, in the end, it’s also what counts historically. I wasn’t aware of that. And it frustrates me to no end.
I believe I’ve said this before, but as far as I’m concerned, Timmy went the golden path: He led the team he was drafted by to championship glory in only his second season, and then he led the team he was drafted by to more titles. There is only one player I can think of who has an even greater storyline to his career, and that’s Michael Jordan.
In the end it all comes down to this: I think I now know what it means to be a local fan in a small market. And I’m with you, Pounders.
Musical break by my favorite band.