Wikipedia defines Survivability as the ability to remain alive or continue to exist.
"Hopefully the league can figure out one way where it can go back to the '80s where you had three or four All-Stars, three or four superstars, three or four Hall of Famers on the same team. The league was great. It wasn't as watered down as it is now. Imagine if you could take Kevin Love off Minnesota and add him to another team and shrink the league"
- LeBron James
In the go-go 1990s the Dow Jones Industrial Average, our nation's index of record, climbed from 2,800 to 11,700 for an incredible rise of 400%. The NBA traced along on a similar expansionary route, growing from 23 teams in the late '80's to 29 by the late '90s (for a growth rate of about 25%, not too shabby). The bull market in equities was the result of a happy confluence of events ranging from the fall of communism to the rise in leverage and cheap money, while the bull market in professional basketball had one major cause, Michael Jeffery Jordan.
With expansion often comes dilution. The Association is stretched thin. In 2004 the Charlotte Bobcats entered the NBA to make it an even 30 teams. However, many thoughtful hardwood aficionados believe that the league in it's current form is watered down and therefore tasteless. Count King James amongst the concerned purists. When he came out for contraction a few weeks ago, LeBron reignited a long dormant debate between those who seek to expand the NBA into an international powerhouse, (let's call them the Neocons led by David Stern) and those who wish it to remain an exclusive club of elite performers (let's call them the Paleocons lead by LeBron James).
Onward now to the notion of survivability. If we were to revolve back to LeBron's golden age (the mid 1980s) seven NBA franchises would need to be axed. But which unlucky seven? Which of the weak hands would get to join the grungy ranks of the St. Louis Bombers and the Sheboygan Red Skins on that awful ash heap of dead franchise history? We already know King James could do with the elimination of the New Jersey Nets and the Minnesota Timberwolves. But who else?
Here are the other obvious candidates for contraction: Memphis Grizzlies (NBA valuation rank: 29 of 30, attendance rank: 28 of 30), Sacramento Kings (NBA valuation rank 22 of 30, attendance rank: 29 of 30), Milwaukee Bucks (NBA valuation rank: 30 of 30, attendance rank: 24 of 30), New Orleans Hornets (NBA Valuation rank 28 of 30, attendance rank 23 of 30), Charlotte Bobcats (NBA valuation rank: 25 of 30, attendance rank: 22 of 30), and of course everybody's favorite hard luck head case The L.A. Clippers (NBA valuation rank: 23 of 30, attendance rank: 20 of 30).
They say only the strong survive. Except when they don't. The NBA, like all major North American sports leagues, is an awkward amalgamation of large and small market teams forming a symbiotic relationship for supposed mutual benefit and survival. The LeBron James', Kobe Bryants, and Dwayne Wades of the league along with the Lakers, Celtics, Bulls, and Knicks are the top of the food chain, the lion kings upon whose sturdy back the weaker beasts rely for sure survival.
On the ultimate question of contraction vs. survivability I am mixed. On the one hand I do long for the halycon days of super-teams and super-rivals, LBJ's "golden age." It is admittedly hard to get amped for a tuesday night "collision" between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Charlotte Bobcats. However, I can't with good conscience advocate the forced removal of NBA teams from any cities no matter how fickle or dispassionate the fan base appears to be. It is a great game, a beautiful game, and people of all ages in every corner of this great nation deserve to be part of it. Besides, Memphis and Charlotte are just one Kevin Durant or LeBron James lottery pick away from glory. Just ask Cleveland and Oklahoma City.