Almost everyone is aware that LeBron James, the greatest basketball player in a generation, exercised his option to become a free agent and promptly signed with the Los Angeles Lakers. After the worst five years in franchise history, Laker fans like me were thrilled with the news. However, it also reinforced the sobering fact that NBA championships are won more during free agency than they are on the court. It makes the experience for fans less fun. I believe in free agency. It allows players to play for the team that is willing to pay them what they are worth, but top players today, even those on rival teams, communicate with each other during the course of the season and make plans to form super teams. Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors after a season when Golden State won more games than any other team in NBA history was the most egregious example of how free agency is hurting the game. If the NBA wants to fix this problem, they need to do three things: 1) Make the salary cap a hard ceiling 2) Eliminate max salaries 3) Tax teams who sign free agents. These three moves will make it all but impossible for super teams to emerge, without penalizing the top players who deserve to make as much money as they can command. Can you imagine the battles we would have been denied if Larry Bird and Magic Johnson both played for the Lakers, Reggie Miller had signed with the Knicks, or if Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell both played for the Celtics? It would be much more fun to see today’s top players competing against each other than forming super teams.
The NFL markets its brand as well as any enterprise in the world. I heard a comedian once say that the NFL is so popular, it has its own day. NFL football is huge. Each NFL franchise brings in approximately $400M a year in revenue; almost double the annual revenue of NBA teams and 2 ½ times as much as MLB clubs.