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NBA / Oct 21, 2011 / 3:30 pm

When Money Creates NBA Titles

Tim Duncan (photo. adidas)

It’s often said that too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Too much ice cream will get you fat. Too much studying can leave you drained. Too much drinking will have you running your mouth or throwing bartenders 50 percent tips. In the NBA, it’s the same. How often do we complain about underachieving teams? How often does the most talented team win? Winning of course takes talent. But there has to be some rules in place. For a team of individuals working together, you can’t have too much talent that doesn’t know its place. You have to have hierarchy. But where can coaches and organizations draw the line? One Northwestern University study is trying to figure that out.

The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the Stanford Graduate School of Business recently performed a study on NBA teams between 1997 and 2007, focusing on pay dispersion, starting lineup dispersion and playing time dispersion to measure hierarchy. Intragroup coordination and cooperation were adjusted and tested by looking at assists, turnovers, defensive rebounds and field-goal percentage.

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“We view procedural interdependence as a critical factor that creates a need for hierarchy. Thus, we predicted that hierarchy in the NBA would relate positively to team performance,” said Adam Galinsky, the Morris and Alice Kaplan Professor of Ethics and Decision in Management at Kellogg. “This is in stark contrast to professional baseball, which is much more of an individual game requiring minimal team interdependence. Indeed, prior research on major league baseball found that pay disparities had a negative effect on on-field performance and revenues.”

Interesting that during a period where two bitter sides are fighting over pieces of the lockout pie, there’s a study suggesting that in order to win in the NBA, you really shouldn’t have similarly-paid players. Basically, you need a couple of high earners or max players, a few others making perhaps $4-6 million a year and then the rest fight over the scraps. It makes sense in a way… to win you need defined roles, stars and leaders to keep everyone in line. The best way to do that is obviously through money. But then why is it different in baseball? Can baseball teams police themselves better than NBA teams?

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All-Stars get special treatment. They make more money, find endorsements, have a say in what happens within an organization and they almost definitely get more media attention. With so much of this game about star power, and with every NBA player nowadays coming up in a star system that perpetuates spoiling young basketball players, perhaps it’s just programmed into teams now. You have your have-nots – players who accept their secondary stance – and your haves – the stars who can do basically whatever they want. When talented teams fall apart, it’s because that gentle balance was disrupted. At the basis of all that is money.

The survey seems to say that in basketball, players understand the ranking system. In baseball, it’s much more negotiable. It begs the question: why does the dispersal of money in basketball and baseball weigh so differently on a team’s performance?

Are there ways to tell if a team doesn’t have hierarchy? Which team all time is the best example of this?

Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.

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  • BRUCE

    The NY Yankees!