Appreciating the Growth of the NBA’s Middle Class


If you pay attention to politics, you’re probably familiar with President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party’s “middle class economics” system that thrives upon the success of those who aren’t at either end of the class spectrum.

You also may know of this system if you follow the NBA.

I know what you’re thinking. Economics have nothing to do with the NBA! Well, you’re wrong.

Economics and basketball have many parallels. Teams cut ties with players as business moves unrelated to their talent, trades can fall through if they don’t match up financially, and players move teams to play in larger markets to boost their individual brand.

It’s the last point that leads into what draws comparison to Obama’s economic agenda. One recent example is Goran Dragic requesting a trade from the playoff-contending Phoenix Suns to either New York, Los Angeles or Miami, all teams with low championship contention odds.

That trend is consistent across the nation. New York, L.A., Miami, Boston, Philadelphia … all of these cities have large populations but equally large numbers in the loss column.

Meanwhile, the top teams in the league come from smaller markets. Not quite small markets like Utah and Milwaukee, but just looking at the standings helps you understand.

Golden State. Portland. Memphis. Atlanta. All of these are considered “big” cities by most, but, in terms of NBA teams, not as much. They are usually farms for the Knicks and the Celtics of the world to poach talent from. Granted, that’s going to happen in a league where guys can get contracts with more zeros than there are days in the week.

Stopping such movement before it can happen is how these teams continue to compete. The Warriors locked up Klay Thompson this past summer before he became a top 10 scorer. The Grizzlies made sure their core of Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol would be there long-term. The Blazers built a team around budding star Damian Lillard before he hit free agency, leading him to likely ink a big extension this summer.

They all stopped the most destructive thing that can happen to a team; unrestricted free agency.

Just look back to the summer of 2010. Jerseys burned, cop cars flipped and fans cried throughout Cleveland when LeBron James told the world he was leaving the Cavs to join the Heat in front of dozens of cameras on ESPN. The Cavs then flunked their way into the No. 1 overall pick and drafted Kyrie Irving…who they extended just over a year ago as he was blossoming into a top tier point guard.

It’s crazy how this works. As general managers like Philly’s Sam Hinkie stockpile picks and purposely put bad teams on the floor to get higher in the draft order and ones like Pat Riley trade away the future for proven talent, guys like Bob Myers and Danny Ferry simply add the proper pieces to their well-oiled machines to continue to churn out fantastic basketball.

There’s no way of telling which will ultimately prevail, but if the current standings are any indication, the NBA’s middle class is doing it right.