You may already be aware, certainly if you’re a basketball fan, of the recent achievements of the Miami Heat trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, or “Triami” if you prefer.
The Heat trio, all top five draft picks in 2003, finished the game against Houston with at least a 30-10, 30 points and 10 rebounds, the first time such a feat was achieved in regulation time since 1961.
So how do teams find themselves with a triumvirate of great players in a system designed to bring fairness to all? In the largest free market economy in world, professional sports are an exception, a refuge from the harsh realities of capitalism. Though you might argue that concept has been ditched in the financial world also with the various bailouts, stimuli and interest-free money being injected into the markets.
The entire system for professional sports in the US is a brilliant concept, and we’ll examine the NBA in particular. The most ingenious element of the process is the lottery aspect, which discourages teams from deliberately attempting to finish lower in the league in order to get better draft picks. The lowest place team only gets more weighting in the lottery.
This aspect is particularly important in Basketball, where, without it, after only five years of terrible performances you could theoretically have the best line up in the league.
The salary cap is another integral part of this system, and currently restricts teams, with a number of exceptions, to spending just 58 million dollars a season
So in light of what I’ve stated above, how do starting rosters like the Heat’s come about, how do Pippen and Jordan, or Shaq and Kobe, end up in the same line up dominating teams night after night, season after season? Some wheeling and dealing is required, and sacrifices must be made in determining the strength of your bench.
James currently command 14.5 million, Wade earns 14 million, and Bosh get 14.5 million, that doesn’t leave much change, but the Heat used the various exceptions to the cap, and it is notable that all three signees agreed to less than maximum contracts to play for the Heat.
The Heat also benefited from signing some veterans on minimum wage contracts to free up some cash.
Can we conclude from this that the system doesn’t work?, that, with some clever wrangling, and players willing to make albeit small sacrifices for the chance to play on a great team, inequality will always be the order of the day?
Perhaps, the last twelve championships have been shared out between five teams, and even with the dominance of the Lakers and Spurs, there is always the opportunity for a team such as the Pistons, the Heat or the Celtics to upset the order of things.
In the altar of money that is Premier League soccer there have only been 3 winners in that time. This brings the issue of financial doping, of which Manchester City, Shakhtar Donetsk and even Non-League Crawley have been accused of in recent years, into the spotlight.
FIFA supremo, Sepp Blatter, for various reasons, has the Premier League in his sights and seems to be determined to push the idea of financial fair play on all the leagues under his auspices.
All over Europe, we see Leagues where only a couple of teams dominate; the Bundesliga is a slight exception, with six different champions in the last 13 years.
With this in mind, we turn our attention to another American Sport subject to similar constraints as basketball, American Football. In the last twelve years, no fewer than nine different teams have held the national title, and this is most telling.
In a team game with a much larger roster than basketball, the prospect of filling a squad with big names is more difficult, and the lack of a lottery element to the draft means the worst team is entitled to the first pick.
Then maybe, just maybe, in a game like soccer where you need 11 good players to stand any chance, Sepp Blatter’s drive for financial fair play will achieve the kind of parity we see in the NFL and to a lesser extent the NBA, and that can only be good news for fans of teams outside of the top two in Europe’s big leagues.
However, I’m still sceptical as to Blatter’s plans achieving this aim. The new rules won’t make a significant impact to the existing hierarchy in England or Scotland or Spain or Italy or France, where the top placed teams in the league generate the most revenue anyway. All they will do is prevent rich benefactors giving a chance of glory to long suffering supporters of lesser teams.
Without an American style salary cap, such rules will only enforce the status quo.