A Stupid Opinion About Tanking

29 Jan

It’s been a while since there’s been a basketball related post on this mother. If someone just started reading this blog they’d think that our poorly written stupid opinions only spanned the realm of movies, but dabbled in television, music and made-up internal monologues of economists born in New Delhi. Well, it’s not. There is a rich tradition of having stupid opinions about basketball too. One of the reasons for the drop off in stupid basketball coverage is all the talk of tanking. Not actual tanking, it’s just the constant talk of tanking has become a bore. Tanking is considered the mortal enemy of the gamesmanship of professional basketball. Tanking is the most heinous crime and teams that practice it should have advertisements for Tampax on their jerseys because, obviously, the team has no scruples or respect for the game of basketball. But here’s the thing; tanking isn’t a real thing. It’s more manufactured than pop music marketed to teens. Every conversation about tanking is nothing more than an elaborate ploy to separate a fan from their money. Well, every conversation about it except for this one because this is a Woodward and Bernstein-esque exposé on conspiracy of tanking.


First off, let me say that tanking simply doesn’t work. The lottery is set up that even the very worst team only has a twenty-five percent chance of winning the number one pick. These aren’t steal-money-from-the-poor-state-lotto odds, but there isn’t a whole lot of incentive to be bad when there is only a slim chance it will lead to a proper draft pick. Teams rarely pick at their position because there is a 75% chance the worst team will move down from the number one spot. Being the worst team has the best chance to get the number one pick, but it is three times more likely to pick lower than their “earned” position. This is a statistics lesson every Nuggets fan knows by heart without ever opening a statistics book. The Nuggets have never had the top pick, but have more than once had the worst record. Unfairness is only one facet of proof that the current lottery system is not broken, and tanking is not a thing.

The next falsehood about “tanking” is that it is a good way to build a team. That it’s good business to be bad in order to become good. Well, this doesn’t hold up either because gone are the days when basketball teams are run by former professional players without a strong sense of business planning or strategy, armed mostly with heavy helpings of pride and playing day nostalgia. Now, teams are run like businesses. Team building requires more hard data and less gut intuition, assets are properly valued instead of being seen as intangible draft picks or holdovers from the previous regime. The NBA Draft is such a crap shoot where by the mid-season of every year the draft mistakes are obvious. So, even if there is a sure-fire, can’t-miss prospect in the draft it doesn’t mean they’ll pan out. Even with advanced statistics and analytics, players go to the wrong franchise, butt heads with their coach or teammates or can’t handle the responsibility or speed of the pro game. A lot of unknown factors negate the luck of winning the lottery. So, even if it is beneficial to draft high in lottery, actively losing games on purpose is not worth the twenty-five percent chance of getting into the top three. But then why is tanking always on the tongues of reporters, analysts, fans and every Tom, Dick and Jane who follows basketball?

It’s because professional sports are in the business of selling hope. It’s the main commodity every franchise from the lowliest indoor lacrosse team to professional team in a destination city with a roster full of superstars is peddling. The second a fan steps in the arena or puts their eyes on the event of the game they are buying the hope that their team will be victorious. The better the business model the larger view of hope the franchise is selling. Well run, successful franchises sell hope for a championship at the end of the season. But these odds are even worse than the lottery, only one team can be champions every other team in the league ends their season in disappointment. The reason tanking is such a constant talking point is because it’s the most efficient way of building hope for the franchises with nothing to be hopeful about. These bad franchises love the idea of tanking. On one hand it suggests that the team is going to get better in the near future, but it also builds hope under the guise that the team could be winning games but it is better for the long term goal that they lose games. Fans get their cake and eat it too. They are fed the narrative that the team is bad, but not because they lack talent to be good, they’re choosing to be worse than they are because they want to be better. When in reality bad teams lose games. Every year there are bad teams, and these teams are going to lose games simply because they don’t have the talent to make it happen. They aren’t tanking, they just aren’t good. And if a team is bad, does that automatically mean the team is immune to injuries? or fatigue? Every professional athlete thrives in competitive situations. It’s their job, and in many cases, they’ve been in competitive situations since they were old enough to walk. But for the good of the team, which happens to also mean less job security for them, they will be hunky-dory with knowingly losing games? Bullshit. Competition is in their blood.

Tanking does not exist. It is nothing more than an elaborate manipulation designed to separate fans from their money even when the product isn’t worth paying for.

-C. Charles


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