Nets can look to Yankees as billion-dollar cautionary tale

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Here is a number the growing glee club of Nets-weary basketball fans might wish to consider before they trip over themselves and their tongues bemoaning what’s become of competitive balance in the NBA.

Here is that number, spelled out:

Three billion, one hundred fifty-six million, four hundred twenty-eight thousand, nine hundred ninety.

Now put a dollar sign in front of it.

And you have $3,156,428,990, which is the amount the Yankees have paid in salary and luxury taxes (according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts) since Nov. 4, 2009, which is the last time they won a World Series. There are three necessary things you need when you amass that kind of bill in professional sports:

  1. Lots of available revenue.
  2. A willingness to spend said revenue.
  3. A desire to assemble a collection of the sort of big-name players that allows you to blow through $3.15 billion — with a “b” — over the course of 11 years.

The Yankees, of course, have all three in abundance, and they hear about it every year, because in that time such small-market heroes as the Kansas City Royals and Tampa Bay Rays have made the Series. The Dodgers have all three, too, and in 2020 were at last rewarded for their fistfuls-of-fifties spending practices with a title.

And say what you will about the Yankees: they are always right there. They have won 203 games the last two times an MLB season was played in full. They have been to four AL Championship Series since 2010, have made the playoffs eight of those 11 years. They come back for more every year, and logic dictates one of these years it will yield championship No. 28.

Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner; Nets stars James Harden and Kyrie Irving
Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner; Nets stars James Harden and Kyrie Irving
AP, Getty

They have had 24 different players make All-Star teams since 2010. They have had 23 different players receive either MVP or Cy Young Award votes.

They have been loaded.

And haven’t even been back to the Series since ’09, let alone won one.

That is simply food for thought for those who have lately bemoaned the present roster of the Nets, another franchise which has zero concern about embracing all three elements:

Kevin Durant.

James Harden.

Kyrie Irving.

LaMarcus Aldridge.

Blake Griffin.

For those keeping score that amounts to: one first-ballot Hall of Famer and two sure-shot future immortals; two MVP Awards (with Harden on the clock for another this year); three Rookies of the Year; two No. 1 overall picks, two No. 2s and a No. 3; 42 All-Star appearances; $1,096,772,153 (that’s with a “b”) in career earnings and $284,794,278 still left on the books.

(We now present an intermission to digest all of that. If it serves as an aperitif, please note that Bill Russell made around $960,000, total, for his 13 NBA seasons. Though he did cash 11 separate championship bonus checks.)

Can the Nets think about divvying up championship shares by summer’s end? Surely they might. Is that a given? To see the hand-wringing, and listen to the growing murmurs, it sure seems that way. But as we’ve seen: all the Nets need to do is look at their fellow outer-borough residents (and former business partners), the Yankees, to see that the road ahead is littered with potholes.

For one thing, as much as Harden has subjugated his game, there is the age-old question of this: can the Nets play with more than one basketball? That leads to this: can chemistry be brewed simply by piling talent on top of itself? Who’s volunteering to set a key screen? Take a charge? Dive for a loose ball?

Again, the Yankees: the iteration of the team that most recently owned the city featured exactly two Hall of Famers who played on all five champions from 1996-2009: Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. There were many excellent players and many role players and there was a championship culture that was all but cast in iron.

Of those teams, only the 2009 champs could fairly be described as “buying” a title, thanks to free-agent additions Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. So let that team serve as an example, if one must be given, that this can work.

Still … that’s one World Series appearance since 2003, and one title since 2000. Sports can be kind of funny sometimes. Stuff happens.

Will stuff happen to the Nets? Well, perhaps we should wait until all five of those stars are able to play together, and who knows when that will be. There are still the Bucks and Sixers in the East, who will probably still show up for the playoffs just for giggles. There’s the Lakers out West, who still own the trophy.

Mostly, there are the Nets, right here at home: fascinating team to follow, addictive to watch, a live-action scrapbook of talent. Can that be enough?

That’s the $1.1 billion (with a “b”) question, isn’t it?

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