The newly crowned NBA Commissioner Adam Silver defended tanking from some NBA franchises recently while in Philadelphia to attend the jersey retirement of 76ers legend Allen Iverson. The 76ers are a prime example of an NBA team doing the best they can to lose in the short-term so that they can improve in the long-term. The idea being that if a team has to lose for a while to get Lebron James or someone like him then losing is worth it.
So they tank their seasons in pursuit of fools gold that undermines the integrity of the competition the NBA is trying to sell. Fans know going in to a game or a season that their team has no shot to compete and are destined to lose while they wait for the next James or Tim Duncan to come out of college. Yet they still are paying a premium price for this kind of entertainment and rarely are players like these two former number one overall draft picks available.
Silver defended this method and the path the 76ers and other franchises are taking and scoffed at the term tanking saying, “It’s an insult to the entire league to suggest that these guys are going out on the floor and aren’t doing their very best to win games.”
Actually Silver’s comments are an insult to fans as his clever defense intentionally misses the point. Nobody is claiming the players on the court are tanking games or not putting out maximum effort. This is a function of NBA owners and front offices types that purposely assemble the worst roster they can so that their teams have no chance to win.
Silver knows this and his comments suggest he not only endorses but encourages this method of rebuilding. To publicly laud the 76ers is at worst advocating losing intentionally and at best accepting the notion that tanking for a couple of years is the best route to go.
The commissioner’s defense of the 76ers and other NBA teams that tank should come as a surprise to no one. He is employed by the owners of the NBA and therefore works towards the best interests of his employers. Not fans, not players and apparently not the best interest of the league. This is a dangerous line Silver is straddling though as Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban recently acknowledged.
Cuban pointed out that if he could fix one thing in the NBA it would be fans’ perception that outcomes are fixed or that referees are less than fair in how game are officiated. The Mavs owner was quick to point out how silly the idea was but acknowledged perception is reality to some.
The idea of tanking and the defense of it by the NBA commissioner only reinforces this notion. A culture of losing on purpose as the only way to become a champion in Silver’s league will catch up to the NBA sooner or later. Because if a paying customer continually walks in to an arena knowing the outcome of a game before it is played then the NBA becomes akin to what professional wrestling is.
The NBA commissioner defending tanking just adds to this perception and if Cuban is right then Silver better be careful or his integrity of his work will always be questioned. After all, perception is reality.
Commentary by Mick Varner