SALT LAKE CITY — For those who believe the 9/11 terror attacks were planned by the Bush administration, that there was a secret shooter on the grassy knoll, or that man really never walked on the moon, I present an important piece of contradictory evidence: the NBA.
Conspiracies, conschmiracies. The biggest market is New York. The NBA offices are in New York. Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts and Diddy are in New York. But want to know how many championships the high-profile Knicks have won in the last 28 years? None. They produce a smash hit as often as that famous Knicks fan, Woody Allen.
If NBA commissioner David Stern is conspiring to favor New York, he's doing a dreadful job. Anyway, conspiracies are overrated and they're way too much work. Overthrowing governments, controlling the masses and cornering wealth takes years. So, apparently, does manipulating the NBA playoffs. The Knicks haven't been a big deal since Willis Reed.
The impetus for my claim is this year's playoffs. In case you haven't noticed, small-market teams Memphis and Oklahoma City are battling in the West. Some think the winner of that series will make it to the NBA Finals. It's true Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Boston, Miami and Dallas were also among the last eight playoff teams, all big markets. But if there really is a conspiracy, wouldn't New York or L.A. still be playing?
The Knicks were gone in, well, a New York minute.
Call me a witless nincompoop, but if market size mattered, we would have never heard of the San Antonio Spurs. New York and Los Angeles would be playing every year for the championship — something that hasn't happened since 1973. If Stern is indeed a calculating monster, and there is a conspiracy, then I'm drinking his Kool-Aid. I'm just trusting enough to believe the teams decide who's the champion, not the commissioner.
Small-market sports teams pick up plenty of followers if they just win. Or maybe you've never heard of the Green Bay Packers. This year's Super Bowl involved two small markets, Pittsburgh and Green Bay. The Packers won, with the small market New Orleans Saints winning in 2010.
In the past few years, the Steelers (twice) and Indianapolis Colts have also won the Super Bowl.
The Spurs won NBA championships in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007. This year's playoffs included Indiana, New Orleans, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Orlando, San Antonio and Portland — all small-market teams.
There isn't as much small-market success in baseball, partly because there aren't many small market teams. Baseball generally needs a large market just to support an 81-game home schedule. Also, baseball lacks a salary cap, so the richest teams can compile the most talent.
In 10 of the last 20 years, a small-market team has been in the NBA Finals, including the two years the Utah Jazz made the cut (1997, 1998). Then there are the Knicks, who are still trying to figure out why anyone would claim conspiracy. If one exists, nobody told them. They were runners-up in 1994 and 1999, but the last time they were a consistent threat was when they made the Finals in 1970, 1972 and 1973.
While large TV markets make it easier to wrangle viewers, it's not as though small markets can't attract interest. Green Bay's metro population is 153rd largest in the nation. That's bigger than, say, Lubbock, but not by much.
If Stern really wanted to control who's in the Finals, how come the glamorous Lakers got swept? We certainly wouldn't be staring at a possible Memphis vs. Atlanta pairing.
If I were to investigate a theory, I'd pick something more plausible than the NBA fixing games. Maybe I'd look into whether aliens really crashed at Roswell in 1947. Then I'd check out whether the Federal Reserve is actually a front for the New World Order. Finally, I'd take a trip to see first hand whether Elvis really is working at a gas station in Terre Haute.
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