Maps on Maps on Maps: A Geographic Survey of the NBA | Winner and Losers

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In the beginning, we brought up the idea of NBA players representing a type of capital asset that moves from one place to another as they grow in value. In the first installment, we looked at (going along with the commodity metaphor) these players were harvested; where they were born. In the second, we looked at where they were processed; where they went to college. Now, we’re going to take a look at where they ended up, and calculate each state’s balance of trade. That is to say, which states are net importers and which states are net exporters in terms of NBA talent.

We all know that the US imports more oil than it exports (although that’s changing because, America!). As such, it is said that US is a net importer of oil, and carries a trade deficit. Conversely, the US exports more Harleys than it imports (as they’re all made here). That means the US is a net exporter of Harleys, and carries a trade surplus.

Everybody get it who’s going to get it? Good.

For this exercise, the good being traded will, obviously, be basketball talent. How we determine their value will be the same way the league does: salary. A state’s imports is equal to the total of all salaries earned by current NBA players playing for a team in that state. For example, the value of Michigan’s imports is equal to the sum of the salaries of all current Pistons. On the other side, we will set the value of a state’s exports to the total of all salaries earned by current NBA players born in that state. Which means, given this criteria, the value of Kansas’s exports is equal to Earl Watson’s salary, because he’s the only current NBA player born in Kansas.

The map below shows each state’s balance of trade. White states have a zero balance. They produce no NBA talent, and they contain no NBA teams. Black states are net importers of NBA talent. The salaries earned by NBA players on teams in black states are greater than the salaries of NBA players born in those states. Dark black states have larger trade deficits than light black states. Conversely, red states are net exporters of NBA talent. The salaries earned by NBA players on teams in red states are less than the salaries of NBA players born in those states.

Not surprisingly Texas and Florida have by far the two biggest biggest trade deficits, spending about $254 million more on players than they send out. In Texas alone, players on the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, and San Antonio Spurs will earn a total of about $262 million in the 2012-2013 NBA season while the 25 NBA players born in Texas will only earn about $100 million.

It’s not just the number of professional teams a state has or amount of residents living there, however. Florida is the best example of this as despite its enormous population (4th in the country), the Sunshine State does a surprisingly poor job on a per capita basis of producing NBA-level talent. Ranking in the bottom ten for the entire country with .79 players per million residents, Florida’s paltry numbers belie their reputation as a state which produces an inordinate amount of professional athletes.

Even when one takes into account that Florida has two teams in the state (the Orlando Magic and defending champion Miami Heat), their numbers still seem pathetic. New York (the Knicks and Brooklyn Nets) and California (with the LA Clippers, Lakers, Golden State Warriors and Sacramenton Kings) both manage to have trade deficits nearly half that of Florida.

In fact, despite the egregious amount of money the Knicks have paid for their teams (with the egregiousness begetting frugality this year) New York might have even found itself on the Surplus list (shown below) had the Nets not moved in next door to Manhattan over the summer. This has created a double shift, as New Jersey -- tied for 9th with New York in terms of per capita player production with 1.70 players /million residents -- now finds itself with a commanding 9 million dollar advantage in the surplus category as the state no longer contains NBA teams for players to play on. That means that the 15 NBA players born in New Jersey, whole earn a total of $57 million in the 2012-2013 NBA season aren’t knocked off the ledger by a group of (given that it’s the Nets) overpaid underperformers.

Not surprising -- although in the case of Washington state, depressingly -- most other states with large trade surpluses don’t have NBA teams either.

So given these numbers -- and all the ones we’ve talked about over the last week and a half -- what can we do with them?

There’s the idea of _gasp_ redistribution. Which would make a kind of sense.

Inasmuch as we’re all basketball fans, and we don’t wish any ills on any of our comrades, it seems logical to want a more equitable distribution of this NBA talent. In other words, states with large deficits should give some of those players back to the states that made them. Why should Texans get to enjoy cheering for nearly three times as much NBA talent as they’ve produced? Why should Washingtonians have to like the Blazers when they themselves have produced nearly enough NBA talent to field a team that, well, could probably beat the Blazers?

We realize that team owners locate their teams in cities where they think they can make the most money. This is a short-term objective. As a basketball fan, we don’t necessarily care about how much money owners make. So long as they make enough to stay in business, we’d be happy. What we do care about, though, is making sure that the next Derrick Rose starts dreaming about the NBA as a fetus. We want him to love his local team and want him to emulate his team’s favorite players on the playground. If there were no Bulls in Chicago, if there was no Jordan in Chicago, who knows what would have happened.

Rose may have become an insurance salesman, a holistic healer, an actuary. He could’ve done anything, but he wouldn’t have been as good at any of his other options as he is at playing basketball in the NBA. One would have to think that the NBA’s presence in Chicago had something to do with it. Is the next Rose in utero somewhere right now? If he’s in Seattle, is he actually going to want to play like anyone on the Blazers? If he’s in Trenton, is he going to want to wear Brooklyn black? We sure hope not.

But there’s more than that involved, as without the money generated by successful teams located in large markets, there’s no way that the league would be able to generate the revenues (or share those said revenues with the less fortunate teams). So, we find ourselves with a conundrum: how can we maximize the efficiency of player movement without destroying the very incentives that get people to want to play the game -- the fame and more importantly, the fortunes?

That’s a deeper, seedier question. For instance, should the cities/states that produce the most players invest more or less in programs that focus on promoting the sport in the area? Or, if they have a team -- as was the case with Washington, #6 on the player per capita list or IS the case with Indiana, #5 -- should they require the ownerships groups to sign agreements that penalize them for leaving?

What’s more is that it’s not just a matter of maximizing the efficiency of player movement -- or giving the Emerald City the team it deserves -- as signing and drafting players who have a hometown connection offer very real advantages to teams when it comes generating fan interest. Additionally, the millions of dollars lost in tax revenue from the players who would otherwise have lived in the state are in double digits, though we suppose there is nothing stopping Jason Terry from living in the town he grew up, even if he plays clear across the country from his hometown of Seattle.

All of these are problems that are luxury problems to have, but they are certainly ones that the league has thought of in the past -- when drafts were based on regional proximity and not team performance -- and will likely continue to think about in the future, as they expand to Europe and possibly into more cities in the U.S.

Ultimately, however, if we’ve learned anything from all these facts figures and case studies, it’s that if you want your son to become a professional basketball player, the best way to do it is to teach a love of the game from a very early age. And then move to Louisiana before sending him off to UConn or Florida. You’re welcome.

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