I think my subconscious has taken over. Over the last couple of weeks, as the NBA regular-season has dwindled down to its final day, I’ve found myself growing increasingly preoccupied with the non-playoff teams. When not watching the Bucks, the teams that I have wanted to see are the Clippers, the Kings, the Wizards, and the Warriors — and not the Bulls, Lakers, Celtics, or Spurs.
I think I know why.
They’re going away. Tonight may be the last time in 18 months that NBA fans get to see Blake Griffin, DeMarcus Cousins, and John Wall playing competitive basketball. Signs of the lockout loom large over the NBA landscape. Earlier today, the league announced that it was canceling the Las Vegas Summer League — although that statement has since been downplayed as only a possibility. With the exception of the playoff teams, basketball will be going away soon, and it may be for a painfully long amount of time.
Across the league, there will be melancholy moments when the lottery-bound teams take the court for the final time. In Phoenix, Gary Bender will call his last game for the Suns, while in Cleveland, Joe Tait will do the play-by-play for the final time in a career that has spanned nearly 40 years and over 3,000 games. Legends in their respective franchises, they will be sorely missed by their audiences.
For Milwaukee fans, tonight’s final game of the season against the Thunder should be something of a sentimental event as Michael Redd plays in what is likely his final game in a Buck uniform. While losing Redd closes one chapter in Bucks history, having the team leave the city entirely would slam the book shut. Sacramento, a small-market city like Milwaukee, comes face-to-face with the end of its’ NBA history tonight. The Kings play the Lakers tonight in the newly renamed Power Balance Pavilion. 3000 miles away, the Kings’ owners and management prepare to present their Anaheim relocation plan to the league office tomorrow morning in New York. The teams owners, consequently, won’t attend the game, but they will certainly be in the thoughts of those Sacramento fans in attendance, many of whom plan to stage a brief “sit-in” following the game.
Basketball in the NBA’s smaller markets can be successful, especially in the short-term when a Kevin Durant or a TIm Duncan is on the roster. But can it survive the combination of a feeble economy and undesirable product. When the Knicks, or even the Clippers, end up the lottery for multiple consecutive years, the future of the team never comes into question; the dollars to keep the team afloat and viable are already in place. Smaller markets, though, get fewer TV dollars and smaller auxiliary revenue streams. Owners can be tempted by the greener pastures of that “other” market, even ignoring the benefits of the place where they already do business.
NBA teams move. The Grizzlies fled Vancouver for Memphis. The Hornets left Charlotte for New Orleans. Seattle lost its team in a most painful manner to Oklahoma City. Now Sacramento teeters on the brink. When cities with empty arenas survey the landscape of pro teams for potential tenants, they’ll be hunting for financially-strapped, small-market teams like a hungry fox stalking injured prey for a meal. Be stealthy, Milwaukee.