Jeremy Lin and the triumph of basketball's excitement business

Tonight, the world will know whether Jeremy Lin stays with the New York Knicks or moves to the Houston Rockets. The hype is a reminder that excitement, not talent, is basketball's currency. Photo: AP Photo

WASHINGTON, July 17, 2012 —The world of professional sports is the poster child for nostalgia and hype, overruling common sense. After all, when money is never an obstacle for a third of teams, money rarely a problem for another third, and the last third is so downtrodden as to be irrelevant, value for money is just another petty concern. That business conundrum will be out in full force whether Jeremy Lin plays for the New York Knicks or the Houston Rockets next season.

 Either hype and public pressure will cause New York to take on an inflated salary for an unproven quantity, or the insane heights of the NBA’s salary game will bump that extra payroll to Houston. As a restricted free agent, Lin signed an offer sheet with the Rockets for a three-year, $25.1 million contract. The Knicks have until Tuesday night to match the offer and retain Lin, or decline and let him return to the Rockets, who waived him last Christmas Eve.

 Efficiency is a rule of industry and cash-deprived sports teams. For every owner being outspent who declares that “[Insert sport here] is a business now”, there is a team that spends like a socialite afraid to let up. Those who are forced to hunt in the bargain bin of the sports’ world are forced to game the system only because “the system” has become more important than sense or, God forbid, talent.

 There are multitude of current actions that define the apparent lack of a need for money control: toothless luxury taxes, escalating salaries, ineffective salary caps, and for leagues that have amateur drafts, out-of-control signing bonuses, just to name a few. This not a basketball problem, this is not a greed problem, this is a leeway problem.

 If for some bizarre reason a team exceeds a soft salary cap, pays the luxury tax, then finds itself in dire need of a profit, there are limitless ways to soak those who will always be standing behind their team – the fans. Sports teams take from their supporters, who just keep coming back for more.

 The culture of overspending is engrained and supported. The only feasible reason not to engage in salary wars is an inability to pay that salary, a woe that so few teams have these days. This is not necessarily a call for the economic fairness package of hard salary caps and stiff penalties. Rather I prefer to call it an example of abnormality, a little bit of reasoning for disbelief to be pulled out during the spending bonanzas of the offseason.

Every time a basketball player with 64 games to his name is being offered over $20 million or a baseball player who can’t find the strike zone has $80 million on the table because an owner has $80 million to spend – remember the reasoning – there’s no need to act like a business when the demand is for excitement. And Jeremy Lin sure provides that.

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Arjuna Subramanian

Arjuna Subramanian is an aspiring baseball writer living in the Washington D.C. area.  He started his writing  with his blog Painting The Black on MLBlogs in May of 2009.  He fell in love with the sabermetric movement during the 2008-2009 offseason, and strives to provide balanced articles from both sides of the statistics/scouting divide.  

When not writing, watching/listening to baseball, over-analyzing his Chicago Cubs, staring in disbelief at the writing of Thomas Boswell, or keeping tabs on the latest Milton Bradley blowup, he can usually be found at the DC Fencers Club, where he is a competitive epee fencer.

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