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Wolf: Competitive Collusion

Something is going on in the NBA and I don’t know if it will end well. The league is faced with a menace they may not be able to overcome.

Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire Burn and cauldron bubble…

By the pricking of my thumbs,

Something wicked this way comes.

Admittedly, Shakespeare was drawn to the dramatic and so am I. Act 4, scene 1 of Macbeth has always been one of my favorites to read. The action, menacing tone and lyrical rhyme has a foreboding beauty that only comes from rare talent and a well planned scene.

And that’s why it’s perfect for the competitive collusion going on in the NBA. It may seem benevolent on its surface but small market teams are at a competitive disadvantage. If the trend continues, all the salary caps in the world won’t be able to pull this league from the fiery flames.

LeBron James, D Wade and Chris Bosh recently conspired to build a free agent dynasty in Miami. Not only was this something they had discussed previous to their summer of free agent content, it was something discussed while playing and competing for other teams! And worse than this, it was well within their rights to do so.

Carmelo Anthony got married. This is common among our people; considered a benign ritual by most. In attendance were Amare Stoudemire, Chris Paul and Denver Nuggets owner, Stan Kroenke. There’s nothing wrong with this. Some would say it was even a nice gesture by Melo, inviting his boss to the wedding. But Melo’s intentions suddenly took a telling turn:

Double, double toil and trouble.

Chris Paul made a toast. He said during his toast that, he, Anthony and Amare Stoudemire were going to form “their own big three with the Knicks.” And he did this with Stan Kroenke in attendance:

Fire Burn and cauldron bubble.

Having players competing with teams while planning their playoff pilgrimages to other cities brings up some competitive questions for the commissioner but that’s a secondary concern. The primary concern is much more insidious: players are manipulating the system and planning the future of the NBA.

If you wanted to form your own powerhouse where would you want to do it? Oklahoma City, Charlotte, Milwaukee and Cleveland? Or would you prefer South Beach, LA, New York or Chicago? And all that comes with these cities of opportunity…

Once you have millions in the bank and have set yourself up for life by playing within the rules of the collectively bargained agreement, there’s only one thing left for any Michael Jordan wannabe to do: win championships…while still making millions. After all, the wife’s Gucci card still needs to be paid.

Michael Jordan wanted to be the best by beating the best. This competitive fire and common theme for athletes is now under scrutiny. Players now subscribe to a point of view that Jordan and his kind would projectile vomit on in front of king and court: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

It will not go well for the league if they become an association of a handful of haves that are holding a bucket of have-nots. The impending CBA most certainly will address this growing menace but I do not see an easy resolution. The NBA is not about communism but capitalism. The free-market system in an open and free society must prevail, right?

So what are we to conclude? The way the league is trending right now is not about skillful front-office drafts, keen planning and free-agent machinations; it’s about player collusion.

This trend will continue. And because it will continue there will be the three, four or maybe five witches in the NBA, cooking up their championship brew…and the rest of the league will be in the cauldron.