Parity not always a good thing

The NBA has always benefited from having big, bad teams on the block that everyone wants to beat.

Updated: August 4, 2004, 10:58 AM ET
By Terry Brown | NBA Insider

Italy defeats the Dream Team, the Pistons dismantle the Lakers for the NBA Title, and the Finals MVP is a point guard who has played for five teams in seven seasons.

So this is what parity feels like?

Before we begin a new season, while still dancing on the Lakers' grave, maybe we should take a look at what the NBA is losing along the way.

With the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, the NBA recorded its highest-rated playoff game in cable history. TNT received a 7.3 rating by reaching 6.5 million homes in Game 6. With the Lakers in the NBA Finals, the NBA received a 13.8 rating by reaching 22 million homes in the final game of the series. This number was 123 percent higher than last year's final game between the Spurs and Nets.

And you thought it was about the Pistons?

The Eastern Conference Finals between the Pistons and Pacers drew a 5.0 rating and reached 4.4 million viewers.

Imagine what would have happened if the the Pacers, with an Indianapolis metro population of 1.5 million, played the Timberwolves, with a Minneapolis metro population of three million, instead of the Lakers (metro population of 12.7 million) and the Pistons (metro population of 4.4 million).

Imagine what the ratings would have been if the Knicks, with a New York metro population of 18.6 million, had somehow made it to the NBA Finals against the Lakers.

Of course, these numbers weren't just for the playoffs.

Larry Bird
The Lakers and Celtics, thanks in part to Larry Bird, saved the NBA in the 1980s.
The No. 1 draw in the NBA throughout the regular season was the Lakers, prompting commissioner David Stern to remark that his dream Finals was the Lakers versus the Lakers. Jerry Buss' franchise drew an average of 19,382 fans on the road. Only one other team averaged more than 18,000 -- the Cavaliers, featuring high school phenom LeBron James. The league, as a whole, averaged 17,059.

Guess which franchise sold more team merchandise than any other?

The Lakers were No. 1, followed by the Knicks.

There are those who love the Lakers, and those who hate the Lakers. Either way, we loved to watch the Lakers, just like we loved to watch the Chicago Bulls or the Boston Celtics.

This isn't just about the Lakers. This is about having big, bad teams on the block that everyone wants to beat.

The Lakers won the NBA Title in 2002. The Spurs won it in 2003. The Pistons won it in 2004. If one of these three teams does not win it all in 2005, it will be the first time in 24 years we'll have four different NBA champions in four consecutive years.

The last time this happened was back in the '70s when, between 1970 and 1979, the NBA had eight different champions.

That was parity.

It may have also been the reason the league almost folded until Magic Johnson and Larry Bird came along in 1980. Stern fondly calls it the "Golden Era", when ratings soared and the Lakers and Celtics won eight titles in 10 years. That was followed by Michael Jordan winning six titles in eight seasons and the Lakers winning three in a row. In between, the Pistons won three, the Rockets won two, the Spurs won two and Philadelphia one.

The Pistons winning in 2004 isn't necessarily the end of the world. But it could be the beginning of the end.

After the Lakers won the title in 2002, they lost in the semifinals the very next year. After the Spurs won the title in 2003, they lost in the semifinals the very next year.

Of the five players named to the All-NBA first team, one has already been traded (Shaquille O'Neal), another almost signed with a new team as a free agent (Kobe Bryant) and a third (Jason Kidd) may be traded by the time this story is finished.

The league's two-time leading scorer and second-team All-NBA member (Tracy McGrady) was traded. The Sixth Man of the Year (Antawn Jamison) was traded.

Meanwhile, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Amare Stoudemire, the future of the NBA, was pounded by an Italian team led by Giacomo Galanda and Gianluca Basile, 95-78, in an exhibition game for the 2004 Athens Olympics.

This is parity. And parity has never been good for the NBA.