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Parity in NBA doesn’t build a fan base

In this Jan. 24, 2018, file photo, New Orleans Pelicans' DeMarcus Cousins dunks against Charlotte Hornets' Marvin Williams during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C. / AP / Chuck Burton

So the system, they say, is broken. The rich just keep getting richer and no one else in the NBA has a decent chance of doing anything.

This oft-repeated lament turned into a near outcry this past week with the news that the Golden State Warriors — already favored to roll over some poor team from the Eastern Conference and win their fourth NBA title in five seasons next year — now are even more heavily favored after adding DeMarcus Cousins in free agency.

Once Cousins is healthy, Golden State will be able to start a team with five All-Stars next season, something that hasn’t happened in the NBA for 40 years. And to many, that just seems wrong.

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Commissioner Adam Silver, they say, needs to fix this, whether by pursuing a hard cap, getting rid of max contracts or reseeding teams in the playoffs regardless of conference so we can at least avoid another sweep.

But even if Silver could get the National Basketball Players Association on board and do any of this, the question remains: Why would he want to?

Parity, in sports, is way overrated. Does a great Yankees team bring down baseball? Have the New England Patriots ruined football? Were Michael Jordan’s Bulls bad for the NBA?

It’s dynasties, not parity, that bring in fans, especially in the NBA, which is the most player-driven of the four major sports. People have strong feelings, both good and bad, about great teams, and that’s good for the sport.

People want to see greatness. Teams such as the Yankees, Lakers, Celtics, Cowboys, Manchester United and the Canadiens have such huge fan bases because of their historical greatness.

Parity does not create compelling story lines. It doesn’t create Magic Johnson versus Larry Bird. Or Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady.

What it can create is mediocrity. Though this occasionally can prove to be interesting — see this year’s Stanley Cup Final, which had an expansion team vying for the Cup — in the long run, having season after season in which almost any team has a shot at going all the way does not build up a sustained fan base.

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What’s more, the NBA never really has been about parity, except for maybe the 1970s, when eight different teams won 10 titles. No one would argue that the Seventies was the best decade in basketball; most would argue that it was the worst of the post-infancy era. In fact, two dominant teams with their personable stars — the Celtics and Bird versus the Lakers and Johnson — are widely credited with saving the league in the 1980s after a decade of declining interest and even rumors of bankruptcy.

The lack of parity certainly didn’t hurt the league in the 1990s, when the Bulls won six championships. Nor did it hurt the league when Kobe Bryant’s Lakers won five championships from 2000-10. And it’s not going to hurt the league this decade, either.

The Warriors, thanks to the biggest salary-cap spike in league history, have found a way to work the system and compile a super-team. But they never would have been able to do that if they didn’t have a coach everyone wants to play for, a system everyone wants to play in and players everyone wants to play with.

Like dominant teams before them, they have found a way to establish a winning culture. And like dominant teams before them, their window of opportunity eventually will close.

Yes, the Warriors are in full dynasty mode and it will be a huge upset if they don’t win it all next year. But no dynasty lasts forever. Cousins, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, three-fifths of their starting lineup, will be free agents in 2019. There is bound to be plenty of pressure on the Warriors in the upcoming season and, with the addition of the talented but complicated Cousins, there might be some team chemistry issues to work out.

No one’s window of opportunity lasts forever. The Warriors are doing what they can to maximize theirs, but players will move on and some other superpower, perhaps the Lakers, will arise.

And then we can all whine about another team.

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