With all the hubbub about LeBron lately, I thought I'd take a look at the Heat and their drawing power. Now, Miami is a big city, but look at the Marlins attendance woes. I was curious about the Heat's ability to attract fans and, as it turns out, it's a bit different. Below is the attendance for the Heat over the course of being in Miami plotted against the NBA average:
The big dip is from the labor struggles in the 98/99 season, but we can see that more recently, Miami has been a larger market team and saw decent attendance despite the abysmal 07/08 season.
Given this, we'd expect that they would be able to spend money. And they generally do. So it's not a huge surprise that LeBron didn't end up in NY, LA, or Chicago. And Miami is a pretty big place, with plenty of opportunities for these players to make up any salary they may have sacrificed to be there. I imagine this is especially true in the case where they win multiple championships. Think the M&M Boys of the 1960's (Mantle and Maris), except in an era where everything is marketable (including 'The Decision').
I've seen a lot of articles in the media about this that seem to imply James is a terrible person for leaving Cleveland. Give me a break. The only thing to complain about here is that James did not tell the Cavs he would not resign with them in person, but made them watch it on a television show (though, I'm not convinced that the teams didn't already get word). It's not like James is off taking the highest offer out there either: some have projected he took $30 million LESS than he would have gotten in a small Cleveland market! So there's no complaining about greed. He doesn't have a responsibility to stay in Cleveland just because he's from Ohio...and even if you think he does, it's a responsibility he (or anyone) can live up to. Yeah, his presence brings pride to Cleveland...but mainly just for basketball fans. He brings money to the Cavs, that's for sure, but the impact he has on the city is likely overblown. He did not resurrect the city, and he never would have.
I find it strange that analysts find James' move one spurred by his ego. Every article I read completely contradicts other ones (and often, the same article does). What about not trying to win an NBA Championship with a bunch of scrubs makes him egotistical? I would think the opposite. But at the same time, these writers say he should want to be the star and do it himself, and going to Miami is 'cowardly'? Really? They say it ruins basketball, competitive balance, and any semblance of rivalry.
But is that really the case? I think the Miami trio will be GREAT for basketball. The NBA has never really had any parity, and the only thing that has really hoisted it up above the balance issue seems to be a two-team rivalry or complete and utter dominance. Think Johnson-Bird. Think Michael Jordan. Think the immense attention on LeBron James making other NBA stars look like AAU bench players. Sure, it will keep Cleveland from being competitive (despite what their owner says in an absolutely pathetic letter). Before this, everyone was complaining about the West being too dominant. Now they're complaining about...what? It's A-Rod all over again. Except he didn't go to a perennial powerhouse for the money. What could these athletes have done to really deserve complete hatred? It's simple jealousy, and it's kind of sickening.
Why isn't the story about 3 great basketball players who decided to work together and form a great team irrespective of salary in a world where the perception is that athletes are greedy bastards (not a sentiment I necessarily share, but it's certainly out there)? These 3 combined are likely personally giving up close to $60 million over the next 10 years to play together and win an NBA Championship. I'm not a basketball fan, but I'll tune in to watch this for sure.
Let's not rule out other teams just yet. Chicago made a great sign in Carlos Boozer, and have a young base that can compete with a superstar team lacking a bench. The Knicks seem to be on the right track and have the money to sign some big players. The Lakers are still the Lakers, and as long as Kobe is there, they'll be tough to beat. The Celtics? They gave the Lakers a run for their money, and have their stars all returning. What this likely means is that Cleveland will become irrelevant, but it will be great for the NBA. Wouldn't you watch a Miami vs. Lakers matchup that features 2 guys (James and Bryant) vying to be considered the next Jordan? Surrounded by other top stars? What about the Celtics team-oriented play up against the Heat's superstars? There are plenty of very good players in the NBA, and I think having one less team become competitive to create these stories will be net beneficial for the league. Cavs fans should enjoy watching their hometown boy wherever he plays. They got some great years from him, but the team didn't put anyone else around them even when they had the cap room to do so. Why would he stay? Thinking that a pro athlete 'owes' something to you is pure narcissism.
I'm curious if this sets a precedent. Why hasn't this happened before? I know the stars aligned and they all became free agents at the same time. But there's got to be a time where this could have happened before. Who knows. My question for an economist is this: Since the players are sellers of human capital with some market power (especially these 3 superstars), can their alliance be viewed as collusive!?!
Obviously that's a stretch, and just a question for fun. But could other teams in the league file any sort of complaint? I don't know how that would apply to labor in the traditional sense...but $200 million isn't traditional in any way and in the instance of sport, the labor is the product. Can you consider an NBA team a consumer? Just silliness from me, but I think it's fun to think about.
The NBA just got one more fan...kind of. This year I watched one game (Game 7 of the Finals). Next year I'll likely watch 2 thanks to this.