Why the NBA is Better Than Track, Part 1

Let me start by reminding everyone that there are no original ideas anymore. So don't let me fool you into thinking I'm the first person to think of this; I'm sure many a blog post or Citius Mag article has been written on this very topic.

I'm a big fan of the NBA. Being an Oklahoman, my team of choice is (unsurprisingly) the Thunder, but I just enjoy basketball in general. The players are incredible athletes who are able to go full-steam ahead for 20-30+ minutes, or however many minutes they happen to get in a particular game. I respect their endurance - sprinting up and down the basketball court is exhausting, as I've learned in the handful of pick-up games I've played - and their coordination is obviously something I'm envious of.

And of course I love watching track. Running is my bread and butter. Watching people constantly push the limits of the sport that has earned my undying passion is exciting, to say the least. Whether it's Kipchoge and the entire running department of Nike looking for infinitesimal improvements in aerodynamics (and infinite increases in sales from the shoes they'll release) as they try to break the two hour marathon, a handful of amateur runners duking it out against the pros over 26.2 miles in a mid-April Massachusetts downpour, or a squad of elites gunning for some obscure indoor record, it's just fun to watch races and their tactics that unfold.

Track's offseason, however, falls flat on its face when compared to the NBA's.

Sure, there's cross country season, but it's tough to find races being broadcast in the US unless it's NCAA Nationals. There are a couple fast marathons in the stretch from September to December between the last Diamond League meet and the beginning of indoor, but certainly not enough to keep you busy.

Compare this to just the last two days of the NBA's offseason as free agency has opened up:

  • Lakers fans threw a hissy fit after Paul George, assumed to be a one-year rental for OKC, signed a four-year contract with the Thunder (bless).

  • The entire league and all of its fans held their breath waiting to find out where LeBron was going, and the Lakers fans calmed down when he said he's heading to LA.

  • Everyone outside of the Bay Area is panicking because Golden State - already a genuine, bonafide superteam - just signed a fifth All-Star an hour ago.

  • The entire NBA fanbase is on the edges of its metaphorical seats waiting to see if the Lakers (who have already made some big signings) can get another player or two on their roster to potentially, possibly, maybe challenge the Warriors in the Western Conference.

It's thrilling. There aren't any games, there's no competition, but I'm refreshing my Twitter feed every couple minutes to stay on top of any big trades or signings that might have gone down. Even in the offseason, I'm as participatory of a fan as I am during the playoffs.

The infrastructure exists for this to be a thing in the track world. We have athletes who sign contracts with shoe companies or track clubs for limited periods of time. They compete wearing their club's gear, representing their team, until the contract expires and they either sign for a better offer or renew their contract.

We need superteams. We need Woj Bombs (Cit Tsunamis? Chavez Shells?). We need mass hysteria and panic as big moves go down.

Imagine this: Paul Chelimo's contract with the Army's WCAP just expired (yeah, I know that's not how it works but bear with me). News leaks that he met with the Brooks Beasts this morning, he's with NAZ Elite now, Boulder Running Club tonight, and... Wait, what did that tweet say? Chelimo's agent is on the phone with AlSal?

Chelimo signs with NOP on a 1-year contract. They make a few other signings to fill gaps in their already stacked team: Rupp in the marathon, Chelimo in the 5K/10K, Centrowitz at the 1500, and Murphy in the 800. They want to snag some points in hurdles, for example, so they add Devon Allen (yeah, I know NOP is pretty much exclusively distance but bear with me). Suddenly you have this superclub that's filled with Olympic medalists and national champions, and the entire US track scene is scrambling to assemble a team that can compete with them.

You could have teams that specialize in different areas. NOP stacks their distance squad, NAZ Elite goes for mid-distance, while Boulder TC goes for a well-rounded approach. Another club could focus on field events, or multi-events, or jumps.

Salary caps could be implemented to try to prevent superclubs and we would watch as Olympic gold medalists take pay cuts to sign with a team that'll all but guarantee them a championship next season.

Teams would work out trades - NAZ Elite sends Kyle Merber and Scott Smith to Bowerman TC in exchange for Evan Jager and a second round draft pick in 2019 (a significant pick because a hypothetical sub-4 high schooler is considering going pro after next season).

There are, of course, a few more things that need to happen before we can have an F5 season of NBA caliber. We'd need a more regulated season. Club championships need to be a bigger deal. Meets need to be more publicized and monetized. And of course, a little more money for the athletes wouldn't hurt. It's hard to get excited that the Generic Shoe Brand Jerrys just signed Speedy Petey on a 3-year, $30,000 contract. But those are all problems for another blog post.

In the meantime, I'll dream of the day when track is popular enough for this to be a serious option.


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