“Mama There Goes That Meme!” Ep. 7: Contraction Traction, What’s Your Action?

“Mama there goes that Meme!” is a weekly HoopSpeak feature in which Beckley Mason and Ethan Sherwood Strauss, like curious extraterrestrials, probe, abuse, and ultimately learn from a popular media meme.

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“I don’t know that there will be contraction, but I just don’t want to say anything that denies that that subject gets raised.”– David Stern

Ethan: Obviously today’s meme is about how crazy that statement is. Right, Beckley? Isn’t that just, totally nuts?

Beckley: Yeah man, I can’t get enough of the Pistons! More teams! Wooo!

Ethan: Uh oh. Dude, you’re not saying that—

Beckley: …Listen we both know there are too many teams. Don’t hang me out to dry now, you’re the one who noted that despite the Pistons’ Pontiac-level suckery, they still get better TV ratings than the Thunder…

Ethan: Dude! Stop! Don’t do it, man! Put DOWN STERN’S LOCKOUT BEARD!

Mark Jackson: Beckley, you’re an amateur bloggah of 8 months, you’re a fan who’s lost his team…YOU’RE BETTER THAN THAT!

Beckley: I’m not answering to you, Mark, until you answer the hundreds of tear-stained letters I’ve sent you! (Just want to say I loved you on The B.S. Report… call me!)

Ethan:
Get a grip, man! We’ve already alienated big market readers with our Kobe-bashing.

Beckley: Okay, Okay, I think it’s possible to semi-rationally discuss the ready benefits of contraction… call it the SternVaders’ Advocate. We’ve already heard why contraction is a bad idea. Now give yourself to the Dark Side, Ethan. It is the only way you can save your League…. Yessss, your thoughts betray you…Your feelings on contraction are strong.

Ethan: You’re advocating for small towners to suffer the sad Sonics fate. Like Blackwater, you’ve become an evil contractor…a monster, a fat cat, an oligarch…

Beckley: I don’t know about that small market jibba-jabba. Seattle remains a bigger market than 60% of the League–we’re just out West and not in California so no one cares–but that’s a conversation for another day. I will, however, admit that The Relocation did alter my perspective because I now view the NBA from a non-partisan perch. I just want to see good basketball, ie- not the Pistons, not the Pacers, not the Wolves. Before you jump to conclusions, know that I don’t want there to be fewer guys rewarded for putting their entire lives into getting to the League, I actually think there should be more professional ballers–just fewer NBA teams.

If I were Commish for a day, I’d make the Development League a real minor league system with one D-Leag team for each NBA team. There are currently 16 D-League Squads and 30 NBA teams, what if there were 26 of each? That would give us six more professional teams total, employing another 80 or so players, while pruning teams or cities without enough talent or interest to warrant an NBA team, like Memphis. Yes, I know there would be a couple divisions with an extra team, but let’s ignore logistics for this hypothetical. With fewer NBA teams, you would need to cut the playoffs down to six teams from each conference–something like the NFL playoff bye system. A decrease in the number of teams and top paying jobs would go over with players and owners about as well as  Joel Anthony’s insistence that LeBron “feed him the rock.” But, coupled with a stronger development league, it would increase the level of play. That’s different than simply casting cities out of the league, which, in my opinion, is a solution only the dark and mighty Lord Cthulhu would desire.

(Beckley starts undulating Stern’s lockout beard like a pendulum. Ethan’s eyes spin and spiral.)

Ethan: Screw it, you’ve turned me, there’s too much basketball improving incentive. I’m for eating teams, if it means better NBA consumption. Even a kind shark can’t resist the current-carried blood. Speaking of which, my father once penned a script for “Sharkula,” back in the 70’s.The plot: Shape-shifting Venus shark monsters disguise themselves as returning USA astronauts, only to gobble gullible humans. There’s a character named, “Discozilla.” Again, it was the 70’s. My point is, some innovations don’t translate across generations. The NBA in Charlotte, Memphis and New Orleans might be a Discozillas–ideas that retrospect hates. Shades on, rhinestone, strobe light, Mothra fight. The goal of contraction should be to serve man.

And I like the D-League idea. Let them eat D-League if they can’t support The League. It’s a kinder, gentler way to kill teams. Beckley, you’ve really threaded the lethal injection needle there.

Beckley: How your Dad kept the lid on the spacecandy-laced adventures of Sharkula and Discozilla all these years I’ll never know. So do the Sharkula(s?) walk around? Are they clothed? Can they boogie? Is this just more Sharksploitation cinema?

Also, I notice all the cities that you single out for contraction are in the South. Yet no one goes to 76ers games, even when they make the playoffs… Do you have some criteria other than apathy, or is this just some time-honored, Berkley-bred South bashing?

Ethan: This is fraught territory, I have to discuss race in the NBA and how it relates to American politics. I feel like Edward Scissors Hands, juggling Fabergé eggs, as Sharkulas nip my gonads. Well, first off I’d cite Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels (by way of Paul Krugman), who made the case that white men as a whole have not fled the post-1960′s Democratic party: The demographic’s donkey departure is confined to the regional South.

Tremble before Krugthulhu!

Regardless of how you feel about Red vs. Blue, Democratic civil rights support was the major propulsion behind this Southern political shift. And it leaves us with an odd situation where disproportionately black states vote against the Democrats, whom black people tend to vote for.

Contrary to popular urban myth, the majority of poor white Southerners don’t vote Republican–upper Southern classes overwhelmingly do, enough to swing elections. And the middle-to-upper classes comprise a great percentage of a team’s viewership, and an even greater percentage of its attendance base. My uncle used to say “Vote with your feet, vote with your wallet.” Buy an NBA ticket and you’re making an unconscious social statement about who you are and how you likely vote:

Perhaps politics and race have nothing to do with hoop in this modern era of African American presidential leadership. But, “bad” basketball towns mostly exist in a certain region. The Grizzlies, Bobcats and Hornets often wither on death watch. The Hawks have had team success amid numbing local apathy.

This issue is more complex than “racism.” Tradition, tribal identity, and subconscious thought patterns are involved. But it shouldn’t shock us that a league constantly at war with unfair depictions of “thugs” and “gangsters,” finds ears deafest below the Mason-Dixon portal. As for Philly, I don’t know. Philadelphia does have something in common with Memphis, New Orleans and Atlanta, though: African Americans make up the city’s largest ethnic group. And that’s the sound of a Sharkula sinking his teeth into my inner thigh.

Last thing I want to know before cold death sweeps my soul into oblivion: Why no D-League teams reside in the dozen or so states that comprise America’s Southeast corner?

Beckley: While I bow to your academic insight into NBA patronage patterns, I don’t think there’s rhyme nor reason to the league that includes the Maine Red Claws, Fort Wayne Mad Ants, Albuquerque Baleful Coyotes, and Erie Bayhawks–can you guess which one I made up? My guess is that if Chris Paul doesn’t inspire attendance, folks aren’t going to be rarin’ for Rashad McCants.

I still contend that The Development League remains a major opportunity for the NBA. Currently, the Mavericks, Thunder, Spurs, Rockets are the only teams with their own D-League squads– which means that only those teams can completely control player development at that level. Is it any surprise that these are four of the healthiest, best-managed franchises in the league?

Every team should be developing young players for a couple of reasons. For one, it increases the depth and institutional knowledge within your franchise while giving coaches an opportunity to cut their teeth and experiment with strategy. Player injuries issues could be more cheaply mitigated by pros who are already “in your system.” But more importantly, this is an opportunity to develop assets for relatively cheap. If you invest $95K/yr in an undrafted player and are able to increase his market value so that he can be traded or bought by another team you are getting a great return on that asset. This is how small market English Premier League teams remain profitable, by developing major talent through the minor league system. While the EPL is not a model of parity, that’s more because English teams import a large percentage of the league’s top talent. For the NBA, top notch player development programs across the D-League would allow smaller market teams to remain competitive by growing cheap young talent through the “farm system” instead of relying solely on hitting draft day home runs and overpaying free agents.

But not only could an expanded Developmental League be an essential part of every franchise, it would result in better players playing better basketball. I’m no Krugthulhu, but I know there’s a strong relationship between the quality of the product and the health of the league. I suppose the main risks would be the perception of contraction as a sign of league-wide weakness (although Stern is already doing his best to promote that), and the millions of hearts broken by franchise demotions. But in 20 years, would it be the best thing for the league?

Henry Abbott: Hey Beckley and Ethan, I’ve got some bad news. You guys have been putting a lot into this I know (or hope), but the harsh reality is that we over-expanded the TrueHoop Network and at this point it’s kind of a “last in, first out” situation. As HoopSpeak was the latest blog to be added to the network, it falls to me to tell you your time with TrueHoop is up. Also, people weren’t really attending your blog at the rates we find sustainable. I think you’ll find that, over the long term, this is the best thing for the Network. For now, I would recommend trying to get on with our “minor league” writing system. Thanks for all your hard work! Please leave your dreams by the door on your way out.

Ethan: Well, we’ll always have the memory of hurling Kobe disciples into apoplectic spasms of rage…back to WarriorsWorld it is.

Beckley: This is all bad Karma for letting Sharkula out of the bag…why Discozilla? WHYYYY?!

@SherwoodStrauss/Ethanstra@gmail.com

@BeckleyMason/Beckleym@gmail.com

Note: All “celebrity” voices impersonated.

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  1. “Mama There Goes That Meme!” Ep. 2: Beat those Heat!
  2. “Mama There Goes That Meme!” Ep. 5: The Kobe-Jordan Conversation
  3. “Mama There Goes That Meme!” Ep. 6: Durant is MVP Already
  4. “Mama there goes that meme!” Ep. 1: Carmelo Anthony wants to be traded
  5. “Mama There Goes That Meme!” Ep. 3: B-A-N-A-N-A-S!
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