We’ve been hearing it for years from players, fans, coaches and everyone in between. The term “big market versus small market” and how it affects contract signings, trades and overall media attention. The list of examples are endless and at times equivalent to stubbing your toe every time you hear it. In my eyes, it’s a label which is not based on success but old fashioned attention and narcissism.
The list of examples is longer than any writer would be willing to put readers through however some examples are needed to shed light on this recycled hypocrisy. The 9th place New York Knicks are known as a “big market” yet struggled to compete years prior to landing Carmelo Anthony and are currently trying to claw their way into the playoffs. The Raptors have made nothing short of a meteoric rise from zeros to heros and stand out like a sore thumb clinching 3rd place in the East for their first playoff spot since 2008. When comparing the two teams, the Knicks keep the worldwide headlines filled with off court drama and Phil Jackson news while the Raptors have kept the win column in good standing with coverage outside of Canada very rare.
The 1st place San Antonio Spurs won their 18th consecutive win last night versus the Indiana Pacers breaking their franchise record of 17. The biggest challenges among those 18 wins were of course the Pacers, Heat, Blazers and Mavericks but should not make the feat any less remarkable. With a team lead by three championship veterans and a talented roster like few others in the league it makes you wonder how the media would decide to cover such an event.
Well if you guessed they would try to spin it into a story highlighting the Miami Heat you’re right. By defeating the Pacers and the Heat defeating the Raptors the Miami Heat became 1st place in the Eastern Conference which is how many outlets chose to report the story.
The Miami Heat were considered a small market for decades even after Dwayne Wade was drafted and beat the Dallas Mavericks in one of the lowest ratings NBA Finals in 2006. The Heat are now a household name and a “big market” but if my 7th grade geography is still intact, Florida is in the same location it was in 2006.
The Spurs have never missed the playoffs since 1998 and have four NBA titles to show for it. Three veterans and future Hall of Fame players (Duncan 37, Ginobili 36 and Parker 31) are all still performing at a highly competitive level.
I do not however want to dismiss the effort that has been made by the media to cover the Portland Trail Blazers and their new found success, the resurgence of John Wall, the exciting Golden State Warriors and consistent nods to the grinding Phoenix Suns. Whether it was all done with good intentions or with hopes of filling the void left behind by Derrick Rose we will never know. Oklahoma City with all it’s success is still considered a small market team and are lucky if they can steal a front page headline from the lottery bound Lakers or struggling Knicks without Kevin Durant scoring 30 or more points.
So in the end, what constitutes a big market team? Possible fan generated revenue and fan base size? Advertising dollars? All-Star caliber talent? Winning records? If that’s the case the Knicks qualify on all fronts except the one that matters, winning. With that being said, what then makes a small market team? No stronghold in the media? Low jersey sales? Small fan base and losing records? If that’s the truth the Spurs pass with flying colors except again, in the only column that matters, winning.
The sad truth is that attention and money is the goal for most players until the reality sets in that they will never win a title until they go to or help build a contender. Media coverage and jersey sales have never helped any player hoist the NBA title and it won’t any time soon. It seems that players continue to be led to the bright lights and big cities like a moth to the flame similar to Dwight Howard’s reality check in Los Angeles or more recently Carmelo Anthony in New York.
The media has unfortunately decided what criteria is needed in order to be labelled a big or small market and whether or not its in a player's best interest to sign with a team helping improve their career. The truth is that the media has most people fooled. Winning is the only thing that really matters, where you do it or how much attention you get while you do it has never been the issue.