Do Professional Sports Really Represent ‘Meaningful Competition?’
There is no clear cut answer to what meaningful competition means, but according to Mika LaVaque-Manty’s “Being a Woman and Other Disabilities,” meaningful competition is when all participants have ‘the hope of winning.’ There needs to be a level playing field where all athletes have similar situations and have the chance to win. However, this is not the case in the NBA. Professional basketball has a severe lack of parity, as there are only maybe five or six teams that have a legitimate shot to win the championship. Whether they admit it or not, the players know it, the owners know it, and the fans know it.
“Another interpretation of ‘meaningful competition’ might be to eliminate the effects of the luck of birth and other factors that don’t depend on a person’s individual efforts” (LaVaque-Manty 15). Everyone should start with an equal chance to succeed, but the big market franchises (i.e. the Lakers and Celtics) are the only ones that attract the superstar players. Teams in smaller cities don’t have the same opportunities to succeed because the star players want to be in the spotlight of the big cities. We are seeing it now more than ever that the best athletes all join one team, usually in a big market, and leave the rest of the league behind. Last summer, two of the best players in the league, Chris Bosh and Lebron James, left their teams to join Dwayne Wade in Miami. This made Miami a contender, but left Toronto and Cleveland to be among the worst teams in the NBA. In modern times, we are seeing the best players all flock to one big market team more and more often. At the midpoint of the season, it was believed that only five teams had the chance to win the championship: the Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, Heat, Bulls. This belief is still held as we approach the beginning of the playoffs, with a few other teams, such as the Mavericks and the Magic, having an outside chance of winning their conferences. Fans of “small market” teams know this and spoke about it recently to ESPN: “‘Fair chance?’ said Marcus Barrett, a Charlotte Bobcats fan. ‘Nah, I wouldn’t say a fair chance. Because all the superstars don’t want to come here.'” The disparity between teams that has risen from differences in franchise location has been a major factor behind the lack of meaningful competition in the NBA. Another reason is the lack of a hard salary cap that allows the big market teams to sign all of the best players that want to go there.
The NFL on the other hand has a hard salary cap, and that is what makes its playoffs so much more interesting. In the above article, the commissioner of the NBA, David Stern, agreed that the NFL is set up in a way that gives every team a chance to win. Every game is more meaningful for a lot more teams, because on any given Sunday in the playoffs there could be an upset. Now don’t get me wrong, there are always upsets in the NBA playoffs, but for the most part there are a few teams that really have a good chance to win, and the rest are just playing for respect. Basketball is built around superstars, and although a star quarterback makes a big difference in football, it is more of a team game. The NFL is a lot more fun to watch for fans of all teams, because there is an equal playing field that doesn’t exist in the NBA. In the NFL, wild card teams that barely make the playoffs have often won the Super Bowl, but in the NBA a seven or eight seed has never won the championship.
We all know the college basketball tournament, or March Madness, is one of the most thrilling sporting events there is. It defines parity. There has never been a person to create a perfect bracket, because it is so unpredictable. In this past year, none of the top eight seeds (out of 68) made it to even the semifinals. Talent is far more evenly distributed than in professional basketball, and that is why March Madness is one of the most looked forward to sporting events in the United States. The last team to make it into the tournament, Virginia Commonwealth, won five games and made it all the way to the Final Four. Almost no one gave them a chance to win that many games, based on the brackets, and most people were outraged that they were even in the tournament to begin with. They didn’t win the championship, but another unlikely team in Connecticut did. Parity creates meaningful competition, which leads to more interesting games for everyone.
This past NBA season has been called the most exciting season in recent memory for the same reason that is is not meaningful for all. People love to watch superstars and big plays, so this season has been exciting for the fans because the five or six elite teams have been thrilling to watch. However, it is not actually meaningful competition because it has been clearly shown that not every team has a legitimate chance to win it all. If the NBA changes the rules of its salary cap to be more like the NFL, the talent will be more evenly distributed and the league will be better for all. Once all the teams are put on equal footing, the games will be more meaningful, and the playoffs will be more exciting.