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Wednesday, June 5, 2002
Updated: June 11, 8:52 AM ET
Super market streak

By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

The Boston Celtics and Sacramento Kings might have put up a good fight in the conference finals, but the two teams were unlikely to face each other in the NBA Finals.

Shaquille O'Neal
Predictably, Shaquille O'Neal and the Lakers are back in the NBA Finals for the third straight year.
Instead, the Los Angeles Lakers and New Jersey Nets are playing for the title, continuing a trend of large-market teams reaching the NBA Finals. Counting L.A. this season, at least one team in the Finals has come from one of the nation's four most populous cities in 22 of the past 23 years.

Some 16.5 million people live in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or Houston, more than all the people combined who live within the city limits of the 24 other cities that are home to an NBA team. That a team from one of those four cities usually reaches the NBA Finals has helped fortify the league's popularity since 1980.

Undoubtedly, it also has helped to maximize revenues. The league's television partners have enjoyed their best ratings when either the Lakers or Chicago Bulls have won championships.

"The NBA has done a great job marketing parity," said David Carter, principal of the Sports Business Group, a sports marketing firm. "Every fan thinks that his or her team has a chance, but over time the big markets dominate. Perfecting the art of making money over the past two decades thanks to the large markets is nothing the NBA should hide from."

The probability (96 percent) over the past 23 years that a large-market team reaches the NBA Finals is remarkable when considering that the percentages in the NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball aren't even close. Baseball has had eight World Series (38 percent) since 1980 that included at least one team from the top four markets. The NHL, without a team in Houston, has had eight (35 percent) Stanley Cups since 1980 involving New York, Chicago or L.A. And the NFL, its hard salary cap now encouraging parity, has had a Super Bowl involving a large-market teams only five times (22 percent).

Population
Size Matters
Year NBA Finals
2002 L.A. Lakers vs. New Jersey
2001 L.A. Lakers beat Philadelphia (4-1)
2000 L.A Lakers beat Indiana (4-2)
1999 San Antonio beat New York (4-1)
1998 Chicago beat Utah (4-2)
1997 Chicago beat Utah (4-2)
1996 Chicago beat Seattle (4-2)
1995 Houston beat Orlando (4-0)
1994 Houston beat New York (4-3)
1993 Chicago beat Phoenix (4-2)
1992 Chicago beat Portland (4-2)
1991 Chicago beat L.A. Lakers (4-1)
1990 Detroit beat Portland (4-1)
1989 Detroit beat L.A. Lakers (4-0)
1988 L.A. Lakers beat Detroit (4-3)
1987 L.A. Lakers beat Boston (4-2)
1986 Boston beat Houston (4-2)
1985 L.A. Lakers beat Boston (4-2)
1984 Boston beat L.A. Lakers (4-3)
1983 Philadelphia beat L.A. Lakers (4-0)
1982 L.A. Lakers beat Philadelphia (4-2)
1981 Boston beat Houston (4-2)
1980 L.A. Lakers beat Philadelphia (4-2)

Baseball, of course, did not have a World Series in 1994. And in the NFL, two Los Angeles teams -- the Rams, which played in Super Bowl XIV, and the Raiders, which won Super Bowl XVII -- now call St. Louis and Oakland their home.

"The NBA seems to resent public perception that it rigs its games or that it somehow favors large-market teams," said Hadrian Shaw, sports analyst for Kagan World Media, a market research firm. "But at the end of the day, coincidence or not, the success of these large-market teams does in fact help drive the popularity of the game."

There is not a direct relationship between market size and NBA Finals television rating. The largest-market New York Knicks in 1994 (vs. Houston) and 1999 (vs. San Antonio) did not do well. Thanks in part to the lockout, the series against San Antonio yielded an 11.3 Nielsen rating, the lowest rating to date. The series against the Rockets, which took place during Michael Jordan's first retirement from basketball, went a full seven games, but yielded only a 12.4 rating. In comparison, every NBA Finals matchup involving the Bulls earned at least a 14.2 rating.

"You have to ignore a lockout or Michael Jordan leaving to understand that the owners and players have an enormous incentive for large markets to get into the Finals and win," sports economist Allen Sanderson said. "The sports world can't survive off too many Milwaukee-Sacramento series."

Though it is the fourth largest city in the country, Houston's television market ranks 11th.

Winning pays
The United States' 3-2 victory over Portugal on Wednesday morning could mean a lot more spending money for the squad's 23 players. The players automatically make $32,500 -- $2,500 per game and $25,000 for making the roster -- but they also make $4,348 per point the team earns in the World Cup standings. With a victory being three points, that's already $45,544. Should the team win or tie one more game, it would likely advance to the second round. Should that happen, the U.S. Soccer Federation will give each player an additional $80,434 bonus.

Britney Spears
Britney Spears isn't quite ready to jump in the car for Hollywood.
Britney in a NASCAR film?
Rumors circulated this week that Britney Spears would appear as a driver in a movie about NASCAR. The London Sun reported last week that Spears was a fan of "Days of Thunder," and the new movie would begin filming in October. But Spears' publicist, Lisa Kasteler, told ESPN.com that "the report is premature and she hasn't decided on anything yet."

Fight flights
The Memphis International Airport is expected to accommodate 200 to 300 private jets from Tuesday through Saturday carrying passengers planning to attend Saturday night's Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis fight at the Pyramid. Normally, only private jets flying into airports in New York and Washington, D.C., must reserve a flight time with the Federal Aviation Administration, but any pilot who wants to land in Memphis has to do the same for fight week. "The FAA is treating this like the Super Bowl, the Indy 500 or any of the major sporting events where they expect a lot of traffic," airport CEO Larry Cox said. Planes will come in at all hours of the night. Because Memphis International is hub to Federal Express, it is open 24 hours a day and is considered the busiest airport in the world during the hours of midnight to 4 a.m, Cox said.

Mike Barnett
Mike Barnett was once head of IMG's hockey division.
NHL's new penalty box
Wayne Gretzky's decision to hire Mike Barnett, his former player agent, as the GM of the Phoenix Coyotes last August rubbed many in the industry the wrong way. Despite the fact that Barnett, who also represented Brett Hull and Mats Sundin, was ultimately forced to drop the title of agent in his new position, NHL Players Association executive director Bob Goodenow said last week at the Sports Lawyers Association conference in Phoenix that Barnett's unexpected career change from representating clients to managing them has helped create a new league policy. "Agents now have to check off a box if they terminate their certification that they won't take a job with a club for nine months," Goodenow said. "Some agents have been fine with that, others have been bothered by it." Other general managers who were once agents include Brian Burke of the Vancouver Canucks, Pierre Lacroix of the Colorado Avalanche and George McPhee of the Washington Capitals.

Not quite a Berkeley sit-in
There's a good bet that fans angered over baseball's labor war won't be able to pull off a successful boycott at any major-league park -- save, of course, for the Expos, where there's a boycott every night. Not only is this not likely to happen because there's always enough people who don't feel like wasting a ticket, but, according to petitions circulating on petitiononline.com, people can't settle on a good boycott date. More than 300 people have signed a petition to boycott stadiums on June 30 and more than 50 claim they intend to boycott either July 31 or August 1. Either way, in a given day, each petition would need 250,000 people to declare their intentions for a boycott on the same date to actually work.

Mad Hatters
For the past 11 months, New Era Hat Co., the exclusive licensee of hats to major- and minor-league baseball, was embroiled in a nasty strike that involved about 200 employees working at the company's corporate headquarters in Derby, N.Y. That ended Tuesday, when the two sides struck a four-year agreement. The company, which has 1,500 employees working in four factories in the United States, argued it needed to speed up production in order to make its commitment to being "Made in America" worth it. "We weren't under any obligation to save American jobs," said John Dewaal, New Era's director of marketing. "We choose to do it." Despite the strike, the company did not have to reduce the quantity of hats produced. Business for the company is up 35 percent year-to-date, Dewaal said.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.rovell@espn.com