In professional football, clubs often field homegrown players at the top level, who share the spirit of the entire city. For example, players such as John Terry, Frank Lampard and Xavi Hernandez are perceived as demigods in their cities where expectations are keen on them finishing their careers as “one-club men”. In the ‘claustrophobic’ courts of the NBA, however, loyalty doesn’t count, and a player’s word proves as persuasive as David Stern’s reasons before he controversially vetoes a deal.
What is hindering players from pulling on their favorite team’s jersey? The answer is easy. In my opinion, it is the salary cap that stops General Managers from offering lucrative contracts to the ‘local boys’. The constraints involved in paying a player just too much, chain the team from signing useful squad players. And on another note, the salary caps prove just in ensuring a competitive league – unlike the four horse races in the Premier League and Serie A or the El Classico battle in La Liga. Between 2000 and 2012, three different teams have won the La Liga while four teams have won the Premier League. The NBA, on the other hand, has six different champions listed in those years, with rising contenders every year.
In definition, a salary cap places a strict control over how much the entire team gets paid in wages. At times, it proves beneficial and ensures a transparent system. The fruits lie in guaranteeing parity amongst players while at the same time, aide in controlling costs effectively. This way, one of the biggest merits of this system is that we do not have a sudden manipulation in funds such as the quintessence back boning Manchester City, Paris St-German and Chelsea. Out of the blue, these teams were winning trophies by ‘buying’ off the best players.
The NBA doesn’t have that power, at least the teams don’t. Oklahoma City Thunder (earlier the Seattle Supersonics) and Manchester City are two teams peaking at the same time in different sports. The Thunder built their dynasty over noteworthy draft picks such as Kevin Durant (2007), Russell Westbrook (2008), James Harden (2009), and at the same time signing rotation players for suitable squad power. However, Manchester City, labeled as unfair champions by their rivals, clearly stole the Premier League trophy through the triumph of their billionaire banks. Being judgmental, not many are prone to hate the Thunder but for City, it is a completely different story.
The second benefit from the cap: the jurisdictions on costs, assures that a team does not need a massive financial bailout or is stable financially. In football, our eyes cried when Rangers Football Club recently faced liquidation. The club ceases to exist in the top flight of Scottish football. Today, it is forced to revel in talent bought in from its youth system with a dearth of internationally known players and there is no guarantee that the team will ever come back to the Scottish Premier League, let alone face its arch rivals: Celtic Football Club. On the other hand, in the NBA (with the exception of the Hornets), teams hardly dwell in a financial mess – largely thanks to the merits of salary cap.
While parity is covered and costs are well within control, the unsung benefit of these caps has been in evening out the competition field. An ideal example could be the Miami Heat. Despite their charm to attract Lebron James and Chris Bosh while at the same time, keep Dwayne Wade, Miami lost a whole lot of first round picks, money and squad depth. What does this mean? If Dwayne Wade experiences a mediocre season and Lebron is on the injury table, the Heat cannot immediately recuperate since the team lacks the bench strength nor does it have the upcoming talent that the franchise has drafted with their modest picks. Essentially, the team does not show up if two of the ‘Big Three’ are injured, or are having bad days on the court.
Many complain that the Heat bought out the NBA Championship through their signings of free agents Lebron and Bosh but not many understand why the team, despite boasting such a spectacular starting line-up, only managed to finish as second seeds in the Eastern Conference for two consecutive years. The team which won the Eastern Conference was the Bulls (luckily, they drafted homegrown talent in Derrick Rose, a Chicago native) who feature only a single All-Star player in their squad. Derrick Rose might be the star player of this Illinoisan franchise but smart deals to cover up loopholes in the team by signing cheaper free agents and bumping up performing players’ contracts determined the progress of the Bulls. The same goes with the Spurs, whose potent threats lie in the efficient usage of the squad. If salary cap didn’t exist, marketable teams such as the Lakers and Knicks would buy out every talent on the market. Imagine a Lakers starting lineup with Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin. Would there be a team to compete against this colossal line up? Their domination would be certified and the league (like the Premier League and La Liga) would become a selected horse race.
The petulance of being an NBA fan is absorbing persistent player trades on the market. But one should appreciate the fact that the homologous competition resulting from stringent salary caps is the reason fans from all over the world sit glued to their televisions screen and give the NBA, an identity in today’s sporting world. Few years ago, the Bulls, Heat and Thunder (then, the Supersonics) were underdogs in their respective divisions. Today, they are undeniable contenders to win the entire league itself. This is how much the NBA has grown through years. And it’s not just because young players groom to become stars overnight. It is largely because the stipulations of the salary cap system insures a chance for every team in the long-run.