Sunday, October 24, 2010

Might As Well Be on Scrolls

I don't want to answer the "48 Things About Me" quiz that the Brick Duck passed along to me on Facebook this week. Instead, I'll offer a list of largely unread library books that I have in a stack at home, awaiting my attention:

Aimee Baldridge, "Organize Your Digital Life: How to Store Your Photographs, Music, Videos, and Personal Documents in a Digital World"

Stewart Brand, "Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto"

Linda Greenlaw, "Seaworthy: A Swordboat Captain Returns to the Sea"

Susan Hasley, "Intelligence" (novel)

Chuck Klosterman, "Eating the Dinosaur" (essays)

David Maraniss, "Into the Story: A Writer's Journey Through Life, Politics, Sports, and Loss"

Daniel H. Pink, "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us"

I'll probably finish most of "Seaworthy" and skim through "Eating the Dinosaur", and that's about it before they all have to go back. Discipline, Drive, and Intelligence are all fine aspirations, but do they really trump playing "Monopoly" on Organizing my digital life is important but not urgent, and as such will just have to wait.

When did I stop reading entire books, anyway?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fear the Deer; Don't Fear the Tier

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and columnist Don Walker today asked, "Is Contraction on the Table in the NBA?"

I tend to think it is, in order for the league to gain leverage on two fronts. First, of course, is the ever present push-pull of labor negotiations with the NBA Players Association. The threat of fewer jobs will either loosen up the players' demands or result in a strike or lockout. The NHL Players Association found out about the latter the hard way a few years ago.

Second, the specter of contraction rattles the cities and communities that constitute the smaller, less profitable NBA markets, such as Milwaukee. To put it bluntly, the Greater Milwaukee area isn't as "Greater" as it used to be, economically. There's no question that some so-called small-market NBA teams, such as the Bucks, are disadvantaged by lower television revenues than their peer franchises. Some also have arenas that -- from a revenue standpoint -- are economically inferior to major facilities in the league's top cities. If the Bucks are to remain competitive here, then local business leaders and politicians will have to pony up for a new arena, or else for a major refurbishment to the Bradley Center that would be tantamount in cost to a new arena. This public expenditure seems unlikely in the current economy, particularly with U.S. Senator Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, the Bucks' owner, increasingly less likely to influence the team's direction within a few years.

So the situation for the NBA, in a nutshell, is this: how can the league avoid abandoning its middle-city franchises, like Milwaukee, while not absolutely requiring new arena construction from markets that cannot afford it?

There's a potential solution that I haven't heard anyone discuss. Personally, I would have no problem with a two-tier NBA in which more playoff slots are reserved for teams from the upper tier. Put the Bulls, Celtics, Lakers, and Heat, and their peers, in the upper tier; keep Cleveland, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Toronto, and other middle-city franchises in the league by creating a second, lower tier. That's basically what it's come to now anyway. Shift teams between the upper and lower tiers based on their prior year's performance, like the European soccer leagues. Or just define teams as upper or lower tier, more or less permanently, and negotiate different salary caps with the NBA Players Association that fit the economics of each respective tier. The peer-level competition within the respective tiers will keep the fans happy, and the lower cost and payroll stability will keep the owners -- and importantly, their risk-averse bankers -- happy.

For some reason, we're allergic to consideration of a tiered approach to professional sports in the U.S. Major league franchises are uneven in quality as a result, and the minor leagues, while beloved by local fans, are very minor by comparison. I like a Toledo Mud Hens game as much as Max Klinger does, but unless I go to a game when driving through that city, I hear nothing about it. But the sad truth is, some of the major league teams in all major sports have become, from the standpoint of national recognition, all but minor league franchises as well -- the Bucks in the NBA, the Pirates in MLB (I'm trying very hard not to mention the Brewers here), Detroit in the NFL, and so forth. Occasionally they overachieve, thanks to a star draft pick like the Bucks' guard Brandon Jennings or stalwart center Andrew Bogut, but in the long run, such teams have little recurring chance against the Lakers, Yankees, and Cowboys. Still, the mid-cities' citizens and local leaders want their teams to remain "major league", not just in fact but as a point of civic pride. "We're big kids, too!"

A two-tier structure would provide a measure of franchise sustainability and allow civic face-saving to occur in the smaller markets, an outcome far preferable to the loss of a team altogether. The NBA second tier that I'm proposing would not be a mere replica of the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association; the Bucks would still play the Cavs, and it would still be an NBA game with NBA players. They'd even play the Lakers once in a while, and the Bulls more often as a regional rivalry. We just wouldn't see Kobe or LeBron in person as often at the Bradley Center -- and by the way, the tickets might be priced at $30 or $35 instead of $75.

If you can live with that, Bucks fans, then so can I. It might even open the door for NBA expansion, not contraction. Pittsburgh Pipers, anyone?


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