Dwight Howard, Other NBA Stars’ Reluctance to Sign With Small-Market Teams Puzzling in Era of Global Media


Dwight Howard, Other NBA Stars' Reluctance to Sign With Small-Market Teams Puzzling in Era of Global MediaIn Houston, there is running water, electricity and even wireless Internet. In Cleveland, there are television sets with remote controls, so Cavs fans can change the channel whenever LeBron James and the Miami Heat are playing on ESPN. In Orlando, there are two Apple Store locations where Magic fans can wonder what sort of witchcraft is at play in the new iPad.

If all this seems absurdly obvious to you, it apparently is not so obvious to a number of prominent NBA stars. Judging by recent reports concerning Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum and others, any place other than New York or Los Angeles might as well be a backwater village tucked into the recesses of a forest or in the midst of a murky bog.

Howard does not want to play anywhere by Brooklyn, as fans have been reminded ad nauseam. Bynum, who could be in Cleveland if the Lakers, Magic and Cavs were able to pull off a reported three-team trade to send Howard to L.A., reportedly is not keen on playing with Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters because Cleveland isn't sexy, or something. Deron Williams found the majestic scenery of Salt Lake City constricting. Carmelo Anthony went to the conference finals with the Denver Nuggets but declared that he wanted to win, so he forced a move to New York, where he has led the Knicks to consecutive first-round playoff defeats.

The stream of stars or near-stars begging out of so-called "small" markets is never-ending. Kevin Love, he of the recent maximum contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves, curiously complained about being tired of losing just as his team seems to be putting together a young and intriguing core of talent. Eric Gordon signed an offer sheet with the Phoenix Suns and announced his excitement over getting out of New Orleans, which should set up some awkwardness in training camp this fall after the Hornets matched the Suns' offer.

From 1989 to 1999, New York and Los Angeles combined to win zero championships, so the lure cannot be solely basketball-related. Somewhere along the way, these players were convinced that their personal brands needed the boost of a city that never sleeps.

The time for condemning the players for holding that mindset or blaming the collective bargaining agreement for creating such a system is past. Still, it is odd how every team not named the Knicks, Nets, Lakers, Mavericks and Heat is treated as a sort of minor-league franchise. The Bulls and Sixers play in the third- and fourth-largest media markets in the U.S., respectively, yet no stars seem eager to join forces in the City of Broad Shoulders or the City of Brotherly Love. The Celtics have won more titles than any franchise in NBA history, although modern stars seem to see Boston as a second-tier city at best. The Clippers are typically lumped into the same group with the "small-market" teams, despite playing in the same building as the Lakers.

Perhaps the prejudice against non-glamour franchises once made sense. Dolph Schayes never got much publicity in Syracuse, N.Y., and Oscar Robertson is often overlooked in history despite doing otherworldly things in Cincinnati. Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game is always a mysterious topic, since no video exists of that performance in Hershey, Pa.

Location is less relevant today, though, than ever before. Ground zero for digital innovation grew out of a nondescript valley outside of San Francisco. The United Arab Emirates does not seem to make a whole lot of sense geographically as a global business hub, but that hardly matters since it is a friendly headquarters for finance and information technology. To make money, it does not matter where you are, but what you do.

That is why it is funny to see so many rich 20-somethings who grew up listening to iPods manufactured in China and wearing Nikes made in Vietnam put so much emphasis on playing in a place with a lot of cameras and lights. James was never at a loss for media coverage in Cleveland, and ESPN seems bound and determined to prove that Howard can get plenty of screen time in Orlando. Jeremy Lin probably would not have been as much of a sensation if he had not played in New York, but Houston certainly did not rein in the mania surrounding Yao Ming.

Big stories do not bother chasing the TV trucks. The TV trucks go wherever the big story is.

In June, when Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder were dispatching Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs, Madison Square Garden and the Staples Center were empty. Later that month, the one-time small-market Heat cemented their status as the league's premier club with their second title in seven years. Somehow, the world marches on without New York or Los Angeles, if only people would let it.

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