THE BUSINESS AND POLITICS OF SPORTS
There is nothing like a feud in sports and apparently LeBron James has picked a senseless fight with the National Basketball Players Association, the New Jersey Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves. It would have made far more sense for LeBron from Miami to call one of the sports talk radio shows in Miami than tell NBA beat reporters that in the 1980s, people like watching NBA games because stars played together because there were less teams. LeBron from Miami could have told one of the carnival barkers on WQAM or WINZ "let's Kevin Love off Minnesota or Brook Lopez and Devin Harris off New Jersey put them on a team to a team that could be really good." It would have made good talk radio but in the business of the NBA, LeBron from Miami could not have said anything dumber from a business standpoint.
"Not saying let's take New Jersey and let's take Minnesota out of the league," James said last Thursday. "But hey, you guys are not stupid, I'm not stupid, it would be great for the league."
Great for the league?
Maybe on the court but LeBron from Miami also wants to put at least 30 players out of work, which will not make his fellow player association members too happy, along with head coaches, assistant coaches, scouts, athletic trainers, equipment managers, front office staff and per diem employees who work for the team on game day or at the arena on game day along with reporters because they won't have a team to cover.
But on Monday, LeBron from Miami backtracked. "I'm with the players, and the players know that," James said. "I've been with the players. It's not about getting guys out of the league or knocking teams out. I didn't mean to upset nobody. I didn't tell Avery Johnson to leave, either. I didn't say let's abandon the Nets, and not let them move to Brooklyn or let's tear down the Target Center in Minnesota. I never said that."LeBron from Miami didn't even know what "contract" meant.
The damage was done however, Nets coach Avery Johnson said, "We're going to Brooklyn. We're not going to contract."
But for LeBron from Miami and the beat reporters who don't know much about NBA or sports business and for book publishers who claim there is no market for basketball history books complete with accounts from those who played the game in the 1940s and 1950s, here is how the NBA worked back in the 1950s when the league last contracted a team. Actually, the NBA didn't contract a team as the owners of the Baltimore Bullets didn't wait for Commissioner Maurice Podoloff to contract them and gave up on November 27, 1954. That was the last time an NBA team went out of business although many have moved and there were a number of American Basketball Association franchises that met the same fate as Baltimore. The NBA took the four surviving ABA teams in a "merger" in 1976.
The NBA, like the National Football League of that era was a step above semi-pro level.
In the late 1950s, television became an integral part of sports. The National Football League became engrained in the American culture on December 28, 1958 when Johnny Unitas lead the Baltimore Colts downfield in overtime to beat the New York Giants. That game changed pro football and led to the formation of the American Football League. NBA owners also took notice of the game and the power of TV according to Bailey Howell who was a rookie with Detroit in 1959
"It was a period of transition because shortly after that they started adding teams," said Howell of the NBA in 1959. "They added Chicago and teams were moving out of the small markets to the big market areas, Minneapolis moved to LA, Philadelphia moved to San Francisco and Syracuse moved down to Philadelphia so they were targeting the bigger markets and hopefully the TV revenue that would result from it."
As NBA owners moved to the bigger markets, they encountered another problem. Too many home games, so the solution was simple. Instead of having the Harlem Globetrotters play the Washington Generals or any other team as the preliminary game before an NBA contest, they would schedule an NBA doubleheader in a proven market like New York and so they owners hold less home games or farm out home games to cities that could handle a game.
"All the cities had doubleheaders but the Knicks had more, of course," recalled Howell. "The league was struggling so and in Detroit they (owner Fred Zollner) didn't think they could have 40 home games and draw good crowds, so we would play about 30-32 games at home and the rest were doubleheaders or we would take a home game down to Toledo or go back to Fort Wayne. We played somewhere different every night; we never played two or three nights in the same place. The Celtics played doubleheaders in New York in the first game of a doubleheader and in Providence. The league was struggling; it was really struggling in those years."
The NBA played, it seems, whenever there was a court and two baskets. The 1953-54 Baltimore Bullets franchise was scheduled in the least likely basketball outposts in the United States at that time. Baltimore played games in Buffalo, Indianapolis, Miami Beach, Miami, Birmingham, Alabama and Troy, Ohio. George Mikan's 53-54 Minneapolis Lakers played in Moorhead, Minnesota, Chicago, Kansas City, Missouri, Grand Forks, North Dakota, Spencer, Iowa, Huron, South Dakota, Toledo, Ohio, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Hibbing, Minnesota and New Haven, Connecticut. The Milwaukee Hawks in 1953-54 went to Omaha, Nebraska, Collingsworth, Michigan, and Iowa City, Iowa. Rochester played a game in Cleveland that year. Syracuse had a contest in Cleveland. Eddie Gottlieb's Philadelphia Warriors played the New York Knicks in White Plains at a building that decades later would serve as the home of an NBA summer rookie league, the Westchester County Center, as well as playing in Hershey. Boston had games in New London, Connecticut, Providence, Rhode Island and Waterville, Maine. Throughout the 1950s, the NBA would be barnstorming during the regular season in addition to the pre-season. The Lakers after Mikan retired performed in Houston and Dallas.