Is a lack of league-wide parity bad for the NBA?

All the talk of the town after the Warriors third title in four years is the concept of parity in the NBA. The common fan wants the element of mystery involved in the chase for the Larry O’Brien trophy, not the same teams every year. Or, only three teams in the league who have a realistic shot to win the championship. Adam Silver was recently pressed on the issue of parity and understood the uproar.

NBA fans want the league to mirror other sports like baseball and football as it pertains to competition. Because the goliaths have a better shot of falling in baseball and football than the NBA. We just experienced that with the Patriots losing the Super Bowl. But, basketball is a different sport.

It begs the question, has the NBA thrived on dynasties and heated rivalries that leaked into many NBA Finals? If you like legendary teams like the 90s Bulls, Showtime Lakers, and Boston Celtics throughout history, then you would have to say yes. For the sake of the NBA’s brand from a historical perspective, the legendary players from these legendary teams brought the NBA to new heights.

By nature, the NBA is still very much a players league. We have seen some great coaches and front offices, but everything from wins to box office is all player-driven. Great coaches throughout the years are always remembered but the great players remain talked about.

So, from the grassroots beginning of the league to present day, the dominating teams and dynasties hooked people into the sport. As for the blips that did not have dynasties winning, they did not result in good business for the NBA. The 2007 NBA Finals with the Spurs and Cavaliers was the lowest rated Finals ever. The 2003 NBA Finals with the Spurs and Nets was the lowest before that and the 2005 Finals between San Antonio and Detroit was also rated low. Why were these series’ rated low? The NY Times reiterates the same message.

“Get the pattern? The Lakers equal survival, not like the 1990’s Bulls, but better than the Nets, the Spurs or the Pistons.”

“That is undoubtedly why after Game 1, ABC Sports made note in a news release that “compared to the last N.B.A. finals matchup not to feature the L.A. Lakers,” the 7.2 rating was 13 percent better than Game 1 of the Nets-Spurs series in 2003. Yes, that was a productive comparison. The Spurs-Pistons matchup is a low-rated series, so comparing it with one that that rated even lower was one way to obscure the obvious.”

“The Lakers equal survival” is the entire point here. The dynasties grow the sport, bring the casual fans in full time, and up the ante for storylines. Same thing goes for the modern day Golden State Warriors. Basketball became the new wave of interest for younger kids due to the game changing, Stephen Curry, and of course the bandwagon effect. What the results? The highest rated Finals since 1998 from the 2017 NBA Finals, and Game 7 in the 2016 Finals  broke that same 1998 Finals ratings record.

As for the players, today’s game incentivizes player mobility and the ability to control their own destiny, regardless of contract status as we have seen with Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard. There is also a boatload of stigma dished at players who do not win rings, regardless of any context to the team, and teams played against. So, Kevin Durant made the difficult decision to ‘ring-chase’ and sign with Golden State on the infamous July 4th of 2016.

While his move will always be seen as ‘weak’ or controversial, he has advanced his brand quite a lot since his arrival. Because NBA players are often judged on titles alone, Durant went from a super-talent to a superstar with these two titles secured. With his personal brand growing, his business ventures have been flourishing. ESPN even called Durant’s ventures a ‘growing empire’ in Silicon Valley in these two years. So, while his move seemed to be a ring chasing move, he has grown a lot in his branding due to the large market.

At the end of the day, the NBA is a league that is reliant on their stars. Durant is now taking a page out of LeBron’s book in recent years. The branding is a big reason why LeBron can now spend an insane amount of money for a new suit  among other investments. Durant made the right move for him in every way has reaped the benefits after his second Finals MVP performance.