In an interview with ESPN, Coach Mike Krzyzewski said,
“As an American, I wouldn’t like to think that an American team would want to lose or create situations where you would want to lose.”
It was a bit of an odd statement, and beyond that, it is flat out wrong. Whether Coach K likes it or not, tanking is a creation of American sports. It doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world.
American sports leagues incentivise their teams to lose by implementing a draft system for new players. The worse a team is, the better the chance they can land a high draft pick and a young player on a favorable rookie-scale contract.
That doesn’t exist in Europe. European football and basketball teams acquire new players by signing them. The market demand sets the price, and the players get to choose where they want to sign. European teams get better by signing and developing good players. The best way to do that? Win. No one tanks in Europe because there is no point. If they purposefully lose, no young stud on a restricted contract is going to come and bail them out.
Why doesn’t Mike Krzyzewski understand this? Because college basketball acts more like European sports than American ones. High school payers choose their college on two main criteria, the chance to win, and the chance to make it to the NBA. To get good players, Coach K must win and develop his players, just like they do in Europe.
If Coach K wants to call something un-American, it should be the NBA. It’s operations are an uncomfortable mix resulting in something like a socialist dictatorship. (Is that even possible?? I may have just made up a new, ineffectual form of government) The commissioner’s office and owners limit the number of teams and thus the supply of jobs. They use their leverage to restrict the flow of new players through the draft, and pay them below market-wages through rookie contracts. Then they implement a salary-cap, ensuring that the best players will never make as much money as they deserve. It’s far from the American ideal of a free market, but it is good business for the 30 owners.
They do this for competitive-balance, believing that their rules increase parity across the league. The thinking is that if all of the teams are evenly matched, more fans will think they have a chance to win a championship, and more people will spend money on the NBA product. Does it work? If you’re a fan of the Celtics, Lakers, Bulls, or Spurs, then yes. Those four teams have combined for 43 championships. The other 26 teams combined have won just 24.
What do you think? Is Coach K right that tanking is un-American? Or is the European model more American? Let us know in the comments section or yell at me on Twitter @rj_infantino.