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Friday Fun Thread for September 29, 2023

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Let's Make the Regular Season Great Again: Contra Freddie De Boer on Why the NBA Sucks Now

Freddie De Boer posts on why players demanding trades is making NBA fandom unsustainable. I was shocked to see how spectacularly Freddie missed the point, and bought into the very frame that is itself destroying the NBA. TLDR: Dame Lillard, star guard in Portland, demanded a trade from his hapless team to Miami. His team did ultimately trade him, but to noted metropolis Milwaukee instead. Freddie uses the occasion to talk about how it makes no sense for a fan to root for his home team if he's in a second tier city, because his team will probably never win a championship.

While Freddie does notice that Dame got traded to Milwaukee, he failed to notice that Brooklyn assembled three superstars who all demanded trades to: Philadelphia, Dallas, and Phoenix. And the Knicks over in Manhattan have been hopeless for decades. Player empowerment isn't about moving to big markets, it's about moving to superteams where players get the best chance to pad their resume with a championship.

Freddie buys entirely into the very frame that is destroying the NBA: that the championship is the only thing that matters. When we rate players' legacies entirely by their playoff success, and when fans only want to root for teams that have a "shot to win a championship." In a world of perfect parity, theoretically, each team would win a championship ever 32 years, reach the championship every 16, and the semifinals every 8. Of course, there will never be perfect parity, so every time a team wins a second championship in less than 32 years, another team gets shuffled back to the end of the line. If fans only want to root for teams that win championships, they won't root for most teams.

And of course that idea is clearly silly if you look abroad. In Europe, soccer teams buy players from each other all the time, and in most leagues there is a price at which teams are forced to sell against their will. Literally every European soccer team outside of maybe a dozen doesn't have a shot at ever winning a meaningful championship, yet so many of them have fans that will literally stab each other over team honor. Fans of rich teams win, fans of poor teams know they never will. Both still have fans. How do we explain that?

How do we make it worth rooting for the Pacers if the Pacers are as likely as not to never win a championship in your conscious lifetime as a fan? By creating things the Pacers can win. The NBA is already doing their best to make the regular season count more in the minds of fans, but it is already so far gone that I'm sure that won't be enough. Honestly, I don't even care enough about the NBA regular season to know how the regular season is structured, so my examples will be from the MLB or NFL.

So I have a proposal for all American leagues, not just the NBA, for how to astroturf some fan engagement in the regular season, even for teams that don't have a shot in hell: create public trophies for rivalries that are displayed in stadiums prominently after rivalry match wins, and the absence of which is displayed after losses. Basic idea runs like this. At a prominent area near the entrance to every stadium, each team would be required to erect a display area for trophies. Enormous, gaudy, awful trophies. Both the display and the trophy will be designed specifically for two things: so that fans will be tempted to take photos there for social media, and that fans entering the stadium will notice the presence and even moreso feel the absence of these trophies. You could have trophies for specific rivalries (Yankees would have the Red Sox and the Mets), or you could have trophies for division rivals (Eagles would have Dallas, the Giants, and the choke artists formerly known as the Redskins) or you could have both. The team that won the last match/series gets the trophy, publicly displayed in their stadium for fans to take photos with before games. The fans of the team that loses have to walk by the empty plinth before every game, the blank space reminding them that the trophy is in Boston/Dallas/New York, filling them with rage at the enemy having the trophy. Foment rivalry and hatred, force official channels and associated press for both teams to cover moving the trophy, make placing it at the winner's stadium a public event.

How will this help? Even in a down season, an otherwise mediocre team can sometimes sneak in a win against a hated division rival.. Now, rather than just playing spoiler, fans of down teams have pride to play for: we might not win the championship but if Any Given Sunday this game, we still get to keep the trophy, and more importantly keep the other guys from having it.

The other change, to discourage tanking, is to alter the draft order system. Sprinkling top talent among weaker teams is good, I like parity, but teams being as bad as possible is an awful spectacle. So I like the proposal I've seen before: at the 2/3 or 3/4 point of the season, the bottom 5-10 teams get the top 5-10 draft picks, but they are awarded in order of those teams finish to the season. Those bottom feeders are put into a new league table for the last 1/4-1/3 of the season, and the team with the best record gets one, second best gets two, etc. This would discourage teams from fielding anti-competitive teams after realizing their team is sunk, from selling at the deadline for future picks. Hell, teams in the bottom half might be buyers at the deadline to try to get that number one pick! Give teams that are out of the playoff race something to play for in the remainder of the season.

Proposals like that, rather than further complicating roster management or constraining players, will help make the Regular Season Great Again, and that will give fans of every team something to root for.

Another thought: don't the European soccer leagues have different tiers, and winning one tier graduates you to a higher tier next year. So instead of just one champion, there are three champions each year. Two lesser champions of course, but still something.

Pro/Rel also has the advantage that small teams can take pride simply in staying up in the top league. Sure, Luton Town fans probably never get to stunt on Man City fans, but they get to stunt on Leeds Fans. Even bottom tier epl teams have someone to look down on.

Pro/Rel wouldn't work in USA pro sports for geographic reasons. Freddie complains that kids in Indiana will have no reason to root for the Pacers, the vast majority of Americans would have no local team under Pro/Rel. Too much population too far from any real city. It works in England and France, where even the most remote areas are closer than one end of Texas to the other.

Pro/Rel wouldn't work in USA pro sports for geographic reasons. Freddie complains that kids in Indiana will have no reason to root for the Pacers, the vast majority of Americans would have no local team under Pro/Rel. Too much population too far from any real city. It works in England and France, where even the most remote areas are closer than one end of Texas to the other.

I don't entirely get this. At least here in germany, it's pretty common to care about second/third or local leagues if the favorite team isn't good enough for the first, and it's also pretty common for people to have a favorite team that doesn't really make much sense geographically(I grew up in northwest germany and rooting for Bayern M√ľnchen wasn't unusual there). Pro/Rel generally also allows for a very smooth transition between amateur and professional teams, which is a good way to generate interest in the "middle" leagues.

That's more or less exactly the American system: an area the size of Germany (by land area) typically has 2-4 professional team market areas. Germany is tiny by comparison to the USA. Hernigsdorf to Munich is 8 hours by car, Amarillo to Dallas is 6. Distances at which a serious fan could easily make a once a year trip, and would certainly go at some point in their lives. Pro Rel in America could easily create a scenario where half the population is traveling more like Hernigsdorf to London to see a real pro team.

What do you mean, "a real pro team"? Why are only premier/major league teams "real"?

NFL has 32 teams, so let's say we add FL1, a minor league with 32 more teams. Slowly but surely, these 64 teams end up in the 48 biggest metro areas.

These metro areas alone contain roughly two thirds of the US population. That's just people who can hop in a car and go see a game, a commute instead of a dedicated trip.

The only states that are too remote to have something that resembles their "home" team are:

  • Alaska
  • Idaho
  • Montana
  • Wyoming
  • N. Dakota
  • S. Dakota
  • Nebraska
  • Iowa
  • W. Virginia
  • Maine
  • and upstate New York, because they always get shafted by the NYC that will probably have like three or four teams alone.

You know what this list looks like? The list of states without NFL teams. Hell, even if you ignore the FL1 idea altogether and crowd the NFL into the biggest 24 cities, the list doesn't change that much:

  • Buffalo Bills move to NYC as the third team

  • Baltimore Ravens move to DC as the second team

  • Green Bay Packers move to Chicago as the second team

  • Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts have to merge to survive

  • Jacksonville Jaguars move to Orlando

  • Pittsburgh Steelers move to Philadelphia as the second team

  • Kansas City Chiefs move to St Louis

  • Las Vegas Raiders move to SLC

  • New Orleans Saints are fucked

  • Tennessee Titans are fucked

Just two states will actually lose their teams completely in this situation.

the vast majority of Americans would have no local team under Pro/Rel

Doesn't every American high school have a team? How is that not enough for density? Kids in Indiana can root for their local amateur team that competes in the Indiana championship. Or for a local professional team that competes in the Midwestern championship. Or for whatever midwestern team that is in the minor or major league. Or really any team that's in the major league. Why should they root for the local team?