The Dwight Howard saga is finally over: in a complicated four-team trade, the best center in the league goes to the Lakers, Andrew Bynum goes to Philadelphia, and Pau Gasol stays put. That means that come the fall, L.A. will be starting Kobe and Steve Nash in the backcourt, and Howard and Gasol up front. Meanwhile, the defending champions in Miami have picked up Ray Allen in the offseason.
In the NBA as in life, the rich get richer. You’d think that as a resident of Southern California, I’d be tickled pink (provided that Howard gets and stays healthy). But I’m not. These days, NBA basketball seems less of sport than a business, with the big-market teams eating up the little teams, snatching up the talent to engineer a title contender.
That’s what I like about Oklahoma City, and why I was disappointed when they lost to Miami in this year’s finals. The Thunder were stocked with incredible talent that they had drafted and cultivated, whereas Miami was the team that people loved to hate, because of the mercenary way the super-team of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh came together. In the end, Miami’s strategy was vindicated. Moreover, by adding Allen to the mix, they’re not even standing pat. Now, the Thunder will have to get through a new super-team in L.A. if they want to make it back to the Finals. Will anyone be surprised if it comes down to the Lakers and the Heat this year, or next year at the latest?
It’s not that anyone did anything illegal. But the deal offends my sense of what counts as good sportsmanship. I want the playing field to be more level. I want players to remain loyal to their teams and fan base. I don’t want winning to be the end that justifies any means.
Oh, well. Call me old-fashioned and out of touch. Or just plain naive. The will to win is necessary in competitive sports, and with success becomes the will to dominate. Michael Jordan was interviewed recently about his experience of 20 years ago on the original Olympic Dream Team. Asked about the number one takeaway of that experience, he didn’t talk about how much fun he had, how amazing his teammates were, or how proud he was to represent his country (though all of those things might have been in his top ten).
The thing he treasured most? Learning enough about his teammates to be able to beat them in the regular season.
I guess it’s hard to be humble when you’re great. Especially when greatness is an end in itself.
(Update, 8/14/12: Now that the NBA is considering selling advertising space on players’ jerseys, will this create even more inequity between big market and small market teams? I hope Commissioner Stern finds a way to avoid creating even less of a disincentive to violate the salary cap.)