December 6, 2021


After watching another NBA draft lottery, I can’t help thinking that our sports leagues are kind of un-American. The draft punishes success and rewards failure. Add in forced revenue-sharing and salary caps, and the picture gets even worse. It’s socialism, and that’s not the American way.

Championship squads take a lot of time and effort to build, and it’s easier to draft top talent than to attract it in the free agent market. The last two World Series Champions, the Astros and my own beloved Cubs, are both known to have tanked for multiple seasons to build up a roster of draft-talent before their title runs. The NBA this year has so many terrible teams that clearly some of them weren’t trying.

I hate this. As a fan, I always want to see the highest level of competition. Instead of enjoying great baseball, many Cubs fans spent years excusing pitiful performances because they have a “silver lining.” It’s equally frustrating to watch rivals rack up easy wins against unmotivated opponents.

I get that this approach is an attempt to even things out, so small-market teams can compete. But I’m not sure it’s working. Winning and losing depends on building a strong organization. The good ones keep winning, despite their low draft status. Plenty of other teams get top pick after top pick and never manage to contend for anything.

Ironically, it’s European soccer that seems to best represent American values in sports. Across the Atlantic, losing teams aren’t rewarded with the best new talent. They are ruthlessly culled from the herd through demotion to a lower league — a financially crippling punishment that ensures teams will fight like hell to win. On the flip side, winning teams get promoted upward until they reach the highest league. Even once they’ve reach the top division, there is still more to fight for — success in this season qualifies a team for their equivalent of the playoffs (the European Champions League) in the following season.

The result? Some major-market teams have become dynasties and it’s not easy for small clubs to compete. But we have still seen 6 different European champions in the last 10 years. Competition breeds excellence, and that’s what fans get to see in Europe.

So as I watched the NBA draft, I was rooting for my Bulls, of course. But more than a #1 pick, I want a renewal of the competitive spirit that is supposed to be the engine of America. It’s time we rethink American sports culture and stop rewarding failure.

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