Wednesday, November 25, 2009

So It Makes You Wise To Break The Rules

This article by Sports Illustrated writer Mark Montieth, formerly an Indiana Pacers beat writer, is an excellent exposition of what transpired that autumnal night in 2004 when Ron Artest ran into the Palace of Auburn Hills stands to punch a fan. I remember well what I was doing that evening: I was lounging at another's house with several friends of EarlDaGoat while we watched something esoteric on television. Only when I returned to my apartment did I learn about this wild dance of fury in my hometown. Can you imagine any wackier bit of news that one could discover upon surfing to your favorite NBA website?

Here are a couple thoughts in connection with the brawl:

1) Montieth correctly notes that the young Pacers made the Eastern Conference Finals in 2004 (after completely de-constructing and re-building the 2000 NBA Finals team) and were title candidates for 2005. The wave of suspensions and trades that followed the brawl gutted the team, and they have been middling lottery players ever since. If I were Pacers owner Herb Simon, I would have cried that night five years ago (and I might be still crying); a team projected to contend for gold in 2005, 2006, 2007, and beyond suddenly became an avatar of suckage. The long-term value of his franchise surely fell by many millions of dollars. Lo, here's what Forbes has to say: the team was worth $340 million at its peak but fell to $303 million by 2008. I suppose a lot of businesses based on unpredictable commodities are similarly volatile: I wouldn't want to invest in a nickel mining company, for example. Similarly, Sony and AEG took a big risk by investing in the proposed 50-date London concert series for Michael Jackson (although they had a clever hedging strategy with (i) insurance and (ii) the subsequent movie after MJ sadly died). I don't think a team owner can take out insurance on the chance that his best player might freak out in front of 20,000 fans and a national TV audience. There's probably an adverse selection problem there for any potential insurer.

2) On the other hand, projections of long-term grandeur for the Pacers were probably unrealistic. Artest was bound to irreparably embarrass himself sooner or later (probably sooner). Jermaine O'Neal, as we know now, is injury-prone, probably due to poor workout habits. Stephen Jackson is a spoiled brat and Jamaal Tinsley is a troublemaker. Reggie Miller retired six months after the brawl and Jonathan Bender retired just 15 months after the brawl. So perhaps the brawl just accelerated inevitable disappointment.

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