My bucket list is pretty short and fairly easily accomplishable because I have always been taught to under-promise and over-deliver. For instance, as a moderately intelligent, white, Canadian Jew, I realized at a fairly young age that I was not going to playing in the NBA. So I set my sights a little lower. I decided that one of my goals in life was to become a season ticket holder to an NBA franchise instead. I’m still holding out hope that I will own a team some day, but you have to start somewhere. Season tickets it is.
I recently reached a level where I have the means and proximity to actually achieve this childhood dream. For the past two seasons I have been a Golden State Warriors season ticket holder and it has not been the joyous experience that I was looking for. This past season, the Warriors have been going through quite possibly the most blatant tank job in the history of sport as they attempt to lose as many games as possible to improve their chances of falling in the lottery. If they finish as one of the seven worst teams in the league, they can keep their lottery pick without dealing it to Utah.
There is a long list of things that as a child I never could have imagined happening to me as I grew up. I never thought I would like dark chocolate more than milk chocolate. I never thought it would be conceivable that a new Simpsons episode could air and I wouldn’t care to watch it. I never thought I would enjoy coffee or vegetables or hiking or cooties. I never would have believed that my parents were right about a lot of things. Most certainly though, I never, ever thought that it would be possible for me to be a season ticket holder to an NBA team and regret it. I have the Warriors management, owners, and coaching staff to blame for this but more than anything, I blame the idea of tanking.
The Warriors played their second-to-last game of the season last night, and I think it's safe to say that it was one of the worst games in the history of professional basketball. I watched as the team I paid my hard-earned money to watch do everything they possibly could short of actually forfeiting in an attempt to lose yet another game. Or as it’s known to most people, tanking.
Six of the Warriors' top seven players did not play for reasons varying from “coach's decision” to “strained groin” to “menstrual cramps.” People named Mickell Gladness, Gustavo Ayon, Lance Thomas ,and Jeremy Tyler all started. Household names Daryl Watkins, Jerome Dyson and Chris Wright were all prominently involved in the outcome. I am a die-hard basketball fan and I had not heard of half of those people before. The game ended with the Warriors blowing a seven-point lead in the final minutes and losing the game by two. The home crowd shot out confetti as they celebrated a job well done as another L went up in the loss column. The entire home arena cheered for the opposing team and left happy as the Warriors finished the night with a record of 23-42.
If you are uninitiated with the misery of the Warriors franchise then I strongly advise you to stop now and read this summary. I will not go into anymore details about the Warriors specifically because you definitely don’t care and also because the hyperlink above is less of an article and more a work of historical importance. Due to season tickets being a fixed (and sunk) cost, I've still attended numerous games over the past month. During one of the nights where I realize I am being repeatedly ripped off, it finally dawned on me that there is only one solution to tanking, and it is really simple.
Many ideas are thrown around about how to solve this epidemic of teams that have no chance at contending so they instead lose as many games as possible at the end of the season to get higher draft picks. It exists in most major sports. Some suggest that the lottery should actually go in reverse order so being the worst team provides no incentive. Some suggest that every team that doesn’t make the playoffs should get equal odds at getting the #1 pick so the incentive to try to play for the playoffs remains. Some creative solutions have all non-playoff teams play some type of tournament where winning against the rest of the horrible teams in the league would give you a better chance of getting a higher draft pick. Thus, at the end of the season, winning, as it should in sports, becomes the goal of every game.
All of these ideas and many more have some interesting logic and may take small steps in the right direction, but they are all inherently flawed. Much like everything else in this country, the answer to the question of how to solve tanking comes down to one simple word: money. Money, like alcohol, is both the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems. So sayeth our generation's greatest thinker, Homer Jay Simpson. It breaks down to this:
The day a team is eliminated from playoff contention is the day that all season ticket holders receive a refund for the rest of the remaining games.
The entire goal of being a professional sports team is to win a championship. So, when you are no longer eligible to accomplish that goal, the team should cease to make money from its shareholders. A company exists to make profits for its shareholders. The sooner a company fails to meet this obligation, the sooner that company will cease to exist. The sole goal of being on “The Bachelor” is to become some floppy-haired wine-making wiener's sham wife and the moment you are no longer in the running to be his sham wife is the moment you are sent home. Consider this idea my rose for the NBA.
No matter how a tournament is played or if a balanced lottery exists, the fact remains that a franchise still pockets the money from its season ticket holders (shareholders) and retains the right to sell hope back to them. Hope comes in the form of all of these losses improving the chances that your team will be better next season. Hope becomes an asset and is used to justify taking money out of your pocket today. Thus, there is very little material punishment for tanking.
Every person who purchases a single game ticket should still pay what the market dictates because they are choosing to make that lone decision. But if the NBA really, really wanted to stop tanking, then this is the plan for them. All of a sudden no one can complain anymore. No season ticket holder can say they feel wronged or cheated by the team because they didn’t pay a dime after the moment they were eliminated. This puts the onus on the franchise to truly sell the long-term future of the team and to get fans to buy in to the vision they have and that is that losing today will ensure a brighter tomorrow.
I look at this solution almost like a major tech company investing in research and development. It may not pay any dividends today -- and it is definitely risky -- but should that investment pay off, then the short-term struggle was completely worth it. If an NBA franchise decides that losing now to get a better draft pick is the best solution to improve the long-term prospects of the team, then they need to look at the lost revenue that was refunded back to season ticket holders as a long-term investment in a strategy that is prudent for all parties.
If you get the next LeBron James in the draft because you were horrific this season, then the short-term cost of refunding your season ticket holders was a worthwhile investment into a profitable future. If your team decides to draft Darko Milicic or Nikoloz Tskitishvili, then your strategy backfired and you are stuck with a lot of jerseys that no one outside of Serbia or the Republic of Georgia wants.
The chances of making the playoffs on a purely numerical basis in the NBA are 53.33% every season, as 16 out of 30 teams sign up for tee times later than the others. Therefore, I add this caveat: it would not apply to team who made the playoffs last season. Because making the playoffs is roughly a coin-flip, probabilities would allow for teams to miss the playoffs for one season punishment free. It is when missing the playoffs becomes commonplace that it must be punished. And the only punishment that business owners truly understand is a punishment in the pocketbook.
You build a winner, you will make money. That's what it all comes down to. Build a perennial loser, build a perennial deficit. Owners would absolutely respond in kind to this incentive structure. You may not make the playoffs but you will lose a hell of a lot less money by being eliminated in the last game of the season then you would by being eliminated with 22 games left.
And there you have it! Once again, I have solved another one of life’s great mysteries. Tune in next week and I will tell you the answers to more of life’s great mysteries. Let me be the first to begin by assuring all of you out there that I will not be renewing my season tickets for next season. Unless the Warriors get a really, really good draft pick.