What is Competitive Balance Really?

May 30, 2017

Let’s all be honest with one another.  The #NBAPlayoffs this year have been very uneventful.  One more time, let’s us all give this honesty thing a try.  After the #NBAFinals ended last year, we all knew that we would see Cavs-Warriors part three.  No fan base complains more that NFL, but the NBA fan base is a very strong second.  For the first time ever, we as basketball fans are seeing something in a NBA rivalry that we have not seen before: Teams facing off for three years in a row.  Yet, many are not happy about this.  Why? 

 

That would be because many feel that there is no longer competitive balance in the NBA.  When we look at the past 30 years of NBA Champions, however, that really brings into question what competitive balance in the NBA actually means.

 

Since 1987, which is 30 years exactly, there have been only 10 different NBA champions.  The breakdown, which is most to least, can be seen below:

  • Los Angeles Lakers – 7

  • Chicago Bulls – 6

  • San Antonio Spurs – 5

  • Detroit Piston – 3

  • Miami Heat – 3

  • Houston Rockets – 2

  • Boston Celtics – 1

  • Dallas Mavericks – 1

  • Golden State Warriors – 1

  • Cleveland Cavaliers – 1

     

     

After the Finals this year, the Cleveland Cavaliers (my pick) or the Golden State Warriors will have their 2nd championship to mark the next 30 years.  Let’s dig into this numbers a bit.  Into the era of what many called “competitive balance”.

 

The top five teams on that list (Lakers, Bulls, Heat, Pistons, and Spurs) have accounted for 24 of the 30 champions in the NBA in 30 years.  This is competitive balance according to many.  Let’s take that a step further. 30 years of NBA Finals have yielded 21 different teams in the NBA Finals in that time frame.  Sounds good, however, we’ve seen teams represent their conference three times in a row on nine separate occasions: Lakers (3), Bulls (2), Heat, Cavs, Warriors, and Pistons. Again, this was seen as competitive balance. 

If you ask me, competitive balance in the NBA is something that has been a myth for 30 years.  Absolutely, the lack of competitive balance in the NBA has reached its pinnacle with the trilogy of the Cavs-Warriors.  There is no arguing that.  That being said, as much as people like to say “anyone could have won back in the day”, that was clearly not the case.  Much like in business, sports is survival of the fittest.  In any given year, there are maybe four teams out of 30 that have a chance to win a title.  That is perfectly fine with me.  There are always other things to watch even though it’s not worth putting safe money down on those four teams.  

 

 

This year in the NBA was the perfect example.  James Harden and Russell Westbrook kept us captivated all year long.  The battle for MVP went on all year long.  Of course, many foolishly picked other teams in the Finals (including myself with the Spurs) but we all truly knew who would be in the Finals.  This is no different than 30 years past.  Competitive balance does not exist in the NBA.  It didn’t in the past.  It does not in the present.  It will not in the future. 

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