Laker superstar Kobe Bryant passed NBA Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajawon in scoring to take eighth place among all-time NBA scorers Friday. But that’s not the biggest news coming out of the two-time world championship Laker’s hometown this weekend.
Jeannie Buss – the Lakers president, daughter of the most successful owner in sports history (Jerry Buss) and girlfriend of the most successful coach in NBA history (Phil Jackson) – has become the first team executive to openly call for a contraction of the NBA. Commissioner David Stern hinted at the idea last year and mega-uber court overlord LeBron James was severely criticized a month ago for suggesting as much.
The idea is controversial, counter-intuitive to some, and exactly what is needed say others.
“Leave it to Lakers president Jeanie Buss to step to the forefront and articulate a tough, difficult suggestion that just so happens to make absolute sense for the National Basketball Association as it enters a crucial labor stage and another crossroads in its 65-year history,” writes Vincent Bonsignore, sports columnist for the L.A. Daily News. “We agree with her 100 percent.”
Too many mediocre teams?
Bonsignore goes on to opine that there simply are not enough quality basketball players to fill the current 30-team format which is fielding too many mediocre teams such as the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Charlotte Bobcats.
Consider the great teams of NBA past, say Bonsignore and others.
During the glory days of Celtics vs. Lakers mania, the Celtics boasted Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish on the front lines vs. Kareem Abdul Jabbar, James Worthy, and Michael Cooper, not to mention such luminaries as Magic Johnson and Byron Scott in the L.A. backcourt vs. hall-of-famer Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge for Boston.
Don’t forget the Philadelphia team with Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Moses Malone, Andrew Toney, Maurice Cheeks, and Bobby Jones. Or the Milwaukee Bucks with Marques Johnson, Bob Lanier, and Sidney Moncrief.
Exorbitant prices for basketball snoozers
Such teams with so many luminaries made for more constant great-team matchups and the occasional wimpfest a very rare occurrence. Now, the once-occasional sleepfest is a regular occurrence – all the more devastating to fans paying exorbitant prices for tickets, food, and parking.
The NBA grew from 24 teams to 29 between 1988 and 1995 and added a 30th in 2004 but attendance has not followed. Of those 30, 11 are averaging lower than 16,000 per game and eight are below 14,000.
“Nearly two decades later we are left with a watered-down league filled with a bunch of mediocre clubs behind a few good ones,” argues Bonsignore.
Jeanie Buss made her comments in a recent interview with the online Wall Street Journal.
“I would hate to see us lose teams, but I think contraction is something we have to consider,” she said. “We may be in some markets we shouldn’t be in.”
The fallout has sizzled ever since.
“(Twenty-four teams) is really a great number at one time,” coach Phil Jackson said at press conference. “You could play five in your division and four in your conference and you could really set up division rivalries with such a thing like that.”
The L.A. Daily News agrees.
“By eliminating six teams, you would greatly enhance the chances we’d be seeing those sorts of groupings again, just as we did two decades ago,” the paper said in its lead Sports story Saturday, topping the piece with the four-inch headline “NO PAIN, NO GAIN.”
[Editor's note: the original version of this story misspelled Erving and misrepresented Jeannie Buss's relationship with Phil Jackson.]