As you may have gathered from my work here at City of Champions, I’m a hockey fan.
Actually, that’s a bit disingenuous: I’m an all-around hockey fan, but an avid NHL follower first. I grew up following the Penguins, and that’s how the sport grabbed me.
So, when baseball season officially came to an end this week, I’m feeling a huge void in my life due to the current NHL work stoppage. To attempt to fill that, I’ll be watching a little more NBA basketball than I usually do.
I’m among the most casual of NBA fans when it comes to TV viewing, but I do keep up with league news through other sources, if only because I have a borderline-obsessive need to know what’s going on everywhere in the world of sports.
After attempting to take in enough information to get primed for the season, I’ve come to one overarching conclusion: I’m happy Pittsburgh doesn’t have an NBA team.
That’s not to say that I wouldn’t enjoy the novelty of major-pro hoops returning to western Pennsylvania for the first time since the vintage ABA days of the Pittsburgh Condors. I think it would be fun to support a fourth team wearing black and gold (what else?), at least for a little while.
But the harsh competitive realities of the NBA have me scared straight regarding any serious hoop dreams. As Bruce Arthur spells out in a recent column, the NBA is more about the haves vs. have-nots than any of the four major North American professional leagues.
Pirates fans may have just fallen out of their chairs after reading the previous paragraph, as the hierarchical financial landscape of MLB has heavily contributed to making Pittsburgh a second-class baseball city for the past two decades.
However, as we’ve seen in recent breakout seasons from small- and medium-market clubs like Oakland and Baltimore, success in baseball isn’t nearly as predicated on stars as the NBA.
The main reason that luminaries tend to rule the NBA more than the NFL, NHL and MLB is the nature of the sport. Only in basketball could a superstar like LeBron James make an otherwise unremarkable club like the Cleveland Cavaliers a consistent championship contender essentially by himself.
Although quarterbacks, goaltenders and pitcher can have significant influence on outcomes, nothing can match the impact of Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant or James barely leaving the floor over the course of a five-on-five game.
Yes, the NBA has a (soft) salary cap, I would contend it’s more feasible for the Pirates to make the World Series than for a fictional Pittsburgh franchise to play in the NBA Finals. The democratic soul of baseball mitigates the effects of payroll and marquee names.
So while the Pirates will continue to battle the most inequitable financial system of the “big four,” I consider myself fortunate to root for teams like the Penguins and Steelers, who are premier franchises in their respective leagues despite operating in America’s 23rd-ranked media market.
In the NBA, that kind of elite status wouldn’t be sustainable. Because of that, I’m quite happy to follow the exploits of the big-name, big-market Lakers, Heat, Knicks, Nets, Celtics, Clippers and Bulls as an outside observer.
That’s the best part of being a casual fan: you never get hurt.