JOHN IRELAND BLOG  |  ESPN Los Angeles

Lakers limping, but still ahead

Spurs wound Lakers in battle, but not in war.

January 13, 2010, 12:16 AM

By: John Ireland

The Lakers not only lost a game on Tuesday night, but may have lost multiple players to injuries. At the top of list is Kobe Bryant, who suffered back spasms late in the first quarter and never recovered. Ron Artest sprained his right index finger, and Sasha Vujacic strained his right hamstring. All three players are listed as day to day, which is significant because they play again Wednesday night in Dallas. Pau Gasol is not expected to play either, but is targeting Friday's home game against the Clippers for a possible return.

Even though the Lakers lost the battle in San Antonio, I would argue that they're winning the war against the Spurs -- despite what you may have read in Forbes magazine.

I read Forbes. Or maybe I should say I used to read Forbes. I used to think it made me smarter, more financially sound, and more worldly.

That all stopped a little more than a month ago, on Dec. 10, 2009, when Forbes released an article announcing their choice as the professional sports franchise of the decade. And the winner?

The San Antonio Spurs.

Normally, I would ignore it, and assume that the writer is from Texas or that Forbes is trying to raise circulation in the Southwest. But this is so ridiculous, that I decided not to ignore it and let out my frustrations by writing this blog.

Forbes maintains that the criteria used for this list isn't based on just wins and losses. Here's what they wrote:

"Teams were measured by equal parts on-field performance and financial valuation growth since 2000. Performance factors were overall winning percentage, playoff appearances and championships."

Here's the argument for the Spurs: They won three titles, in 2003, 2005 and 2007. They averaged 58 wins per season, and made the playoffs every year (they were the only NBA team to make the postseason and have more than 50 wins every year in the decade). They moved into their own building, the ATT Center, in 2001. Over the course of the decade, according to Forbes, the value of the franchise increased by 146 percent.

Here's the argument for the Lakers: They won four titles, in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2009 (more than any other team). They won 98 playoff games and went to six NBA Finals (more than any other team). They were the only team to win more than 65 games twice ('00 and '09). They went to the playoffs in eight out of nine years. Over the course of the decade, according to Forbes, the value of the franchise increased by 107 percent.

When you read those two paragraphs, you can easily come to the conclusion that the Spurs and Lakers are even. But judging by Forbes' own criteria, they're not. Here's why:

The two teams met, head to head, in five different playoff series ('01, '02, '03, '04, '08). The Lakers won four of the five, and if you break it down by games, the Lakers won 18 and the Spurs eight. If you're judging by "overall winning percentage, playoff appearances and championships," the Lakers win two out of three. Also, they blow the Spurs away in direct competition in the decade in which we're debating.

Now, as Forbes would say, let's talk money. Yes, the Spurs may have increased the value of their franchise during the decade by a slightly higher percentage than the Lakers. But using Forbes' own numbers, we're talking about two vastly different standards here. The Lakers are valued at a league-high $607 million. The Spurs are valued at $398 million.

In addition, during the decade in question, the Lakers led the league in merchandise sales, Web hits, and road ticket sales.

How any rational expert -- financial or otherwise -- can reach the conclusion that the Spurs had a better decade than the Lakers is beyond me.

Unless, of course, the expert works at Forbes.

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