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VOL. 130 | NO. 109 | Friday, June 5, 2015
Don Wade

Don Wade

Hey Grizz Fans: Check Out Those Royals, Twins!

By Don Wade

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Is it now easier for an MLB team, regardless of market size, to seriously compete for a championship than for an NBA team from a similar type market (read: Memphis)?

Short answer: Yes.

As these NBA Finals get underway, with LeBron James and reigning MVP Steph Curry as the headliners, there is an accepted truth – be it in a flyover hamlet or a bigger city on one of the coasts – that no team can truly compete for a title without a superstar.

And that Detroit Pistons exception people like to use? Well, it’s expired. The Pistons’ championship was 11 years ago. The NBA was a different place then.

I mean, you know there has been a shift when even defense-first former Grizzlies and current Brooklyn Nets coach Lionel Hollins will say, as he did to me this week, “Three-point shooting is a huge part of this game.”

He didn’t even choke on the words. Honest.

Baseball, by the way, has seen dramatic change in recent years, too, as PEDs have become less a present-day epidemic and more an embarrassing chapter – a really big chapter – in the game’s history.

And that has helped facilitate opportunity. Look around baseball now. Two of the three best records in the American League this season are owned by the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins, who are fighting for the lead in the AL Central.

Last year’s World Series ended with the Royals 90 feet away from the tying the score in Game 7; the San Francisco Giants ultimately won their third World Series in five years. Barry Bonds was not part of any of them.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have become regular postseason participants again and if the season ended today they would have a NL Wild Card spot. The young and totally rebuilt Houston Astros, who have worked their own brand of “Moneyball” the last few years, are running away with the AL West.

So it’s not all Yankees and Red Sox anymore, though they’re in the hunt, too. The St. Louis Cardinals are solidly ahead in the NL Central and the Los Angeles Dodgers are leading the NL West.

What baseball has, then, is an almost perfect mix between small-market upstarts and big-market and brand-name teams positioned for relevancy now, in October, and going forward.

For a long time, it wasn’t that way. When retraction talks heated up in baseball some years ago, the Pirates, Royals and Twins were always in the discussion. Despite the fact those teams play in good baseball towns.

Right now, baseball provides more broad-based hope than the NBA. The Royals, after all, got to the World Series looking more like a speed-and-pitching NL team from the 1970s than a clichéd slugging AL team of more recent vintage.

Sure, the San Antonio Spurs are the small-market poster example that’s easy to cite but Gregg Popovich was gifted with David Robinson and Tim Duncan. Nice starting point.

At some level, the Grizzlies are a good, plucky example, too. But as the Grizzlies exited the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons short of the Western Conference Finals, it was hard to look at the roster without believing the result was inevitable: no superstar, not enough offense to achieve at the highest levels in this version of the NBA.

That latter point, in fact, could keep the Cleveland Cavaliers on the short end of the score four times against the Golden State Warriors. Even with the game’s best player.

Quite simply, the NBA has become a much tougher neighborhood than MLB. And competing in the NBA always has been tougher than in the NFL, where poor seasons have been rewarded with more favorable schedules.

So, if over the next few days you want to root for a team that has more in common with the Grizzlies, you will have to change the channel.

To a baseball game.

Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.

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