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For Most Teams, The NBA Season Is Already Over. But That's OK!

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The NBA season begins this week. In most sports, the start of a new season is time for optimism.  But in the NBA -- as I detail in my latest for Forbes -- for most teams, there isn't much reason to be optimistic. At least, if by optimism we mean "there is hope your favorite team can win a championship in 2019" then for most teams there is no real hope.

This conclusion is based on the story told in Chapter Five of Sports Economics. Basketball suffers from a "short supply of tall people." As detailed in the book, the average height of an NBA player (which is about 6-7) is somewhat rare in the world.  And 7-foot tall players - who are somewhat common in the NBA -- are immensely hard to find.

Because the NBA is drawing on a very small population, the supply of tremendously gifted basketball players -- like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Ben Simmons, etc... -- is quite limited. This means that most NBA teams must fill out their rosters with less gifted players. And the teams with less gifted players really don't have a chance. Or in other words, the NBA lacks competitive balance.

Of course -- again, as detailed in Chapter Five -- the NBA has adopted quite a few institutions to address the lack of competitive balance. The NBA has a reverse-order draft, a cap on payrolls, a cap on individual salaries, and a luxury tax.  All of these institutions are designed to improve competitive balance. But because balance appears to be about the underlying population of talent --which the NBA can't change -- these institutions do not have much impact on the NBA's competitive balance problem.

Fortunately for the NBA -- again, as detailed in Chapter Five -- it doesn't appear a lack of competitive balance really has much impact on demand.  So although the NBA season lacks the drama we see in other sports, we can still expect fans to enjoy watching the games and the NBA to do quite well.  But we can also expect that if you are not a fan of the few teams that are truly going to contend, the ending for your team is likely a foregone conclusion. 

About the Author
David Berri is the lead author of two books—The Wages of Wins (with Martin Schmidt and Stacy Brook; Stanford University Press) and Stumbling on Wins (with Martin Schmidt; Financial Times Press)—written for a general audience on the subject of sports and economics. In addition, he has had more than 40 papers accepted and/or published in refereed journals in the field and at least a dozen additional papers published in academic collections. Beyond this academic work, Berri has written more than 100 articles for the popular press, including The New York Times, Time.com, Atlantic.com, Vice Sports, and the Huffington Post. Berri has also served as president of the North American Association of Sports Economics (NAASE) and currently sits on the editorial board of the Journal of Sports Economics and International Journal of Sport Finance (the two journals in sports economics). Beginning in 2004, he has helped organize meetings of NAASE at the Western Economic Association, which is the world’s largest gathering of sports economists annually. Berri has taught sports economics since 1999, starting at Coe College and then moving on to California State University-Bakersfield. He has taught at Southern Utah University since 2008.