- Ethan Sherwood Strauss, ESPN Staff Writer
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Did LeBron James miss the point about contracting teams, and did we all miss the point while chasing his tail?
When James spoke well of contraction--and yes, that’s what he did, despite contraction retractions--he posited a better, cleaner, less diluted league. This logic was easy to puncture. The NBA is more talented than ever before, losses are a zero sum game. To my mind, his statements were misguided. As an aside, I found the impassioned “How dare he job the union like that!” exclamations to be overheated "Decision" aftershocks. Billy Hunter will live.
(Hypothetical David Stern: I’m happy to announce that NBA players will be making minimum wage as a result of LeBron’s off-hand remarks to a reporter! Bwahaha!)
Lost in the haze of the James kerfuffle was that contraction isn’t about players or teams: It’s about cities. Some cities--especially smaller Southern cities--flag in NBA support. There's a reason why the annually awful Golden State Warriors are never threatened with contraction, while the sword of Damocles perpetually hangs above the Grizzlies, Bobcats, and recently NBA-purchased Hornets.
What I want to know is, does this matter to you as a fan? Do you care if certain regions are lukewarm for pro basketball, or if the NBA bleeds money maintaining a product in smaller markets?
I personally love supportive small markets like Portland and Phoenix. Keep them at all costs, it's fun to cheer a dogged underdog. And I'd take once-supportive Sacramento under my wing, had I the power to shield. But I don't want my favorite sport to languish, unloved, before empty arenas. Televised apathy saps energy from the viewing experience, and it makes little sense to force a product on an unreceptive customer.
It was easy to attack LeBron’s points about league quality but difficult to address the issue he ignored. Is the NBA better for eliminating the teams that drag apathetic followings?