Right off the bat, I’ll promise you that this piece is about basketball. I swear.
Today marks 50 years from when the first episode of the Star Trek: The Original Series aired on NBC. For those of you who don’t know (*bell ring* “Shame!”), Star Trek is a sci-fi franchise that details the exploits of space explorers in the distant future. The show spawned a number of spin-off series, one of the most notable being Star Trek: The Next Generation.
In Next Generation, we follow Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the U.S.S. Enterprise and his crew as they travel the galaxy. One of the coolest inventions in Next Generation is the replicator. As implied by the name, the replicator, operated using Siri-esque voice control, could replicate any physical object and was often used on the show to make food. In light of this invention, Star Trek has been described as a post-scarcity world. In other words, in the world of Star Trek, technology has overcome material scarcity. In one of the Next Generation movies (yes, there are movies too), Captain Picard explains the economics of the 24th century as follows:
“The economics of the future are somewhat different. You see, money doesn't exist in the 24th century... The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force of our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.”
Sounds grand, don’t it? Well, yesterday, Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, an economist and New York Times columnist, went on NPR to discuss Star Trek and it turns out things might not be so great in a post-scarcity world. As Krugman describes it, “There’s lots of room for evil.”
Krugman references a panel discussion in which the participants discussed the economics of abundance. Krugman and the other panelists discuss the world of academia as an example of a post-scarcity mini-economy. They posit that while college professors don’t face a large disparity in salary among each other, there are still disparities in other areas, such as the amount of prestige each professor can garner. Thus despite a relative monetary equality, the focus is shifted to a search for prestige and results in a harsh and cutthroat environment.
The currency of basketball can be boiled down to stats: points, rebounds, assists, etc. Teams are limited in their ability to accrue players with high stats because a high stat player generally comes with a high price tag. However, for various reasons, the 2016-2017 Golden State Warriors have been able to construct what may be one of the greatest lineups in league history. Much of the intrigue surrounding the Warriors’ new big four is about who will sacrifice and how there is only one ball. Legitimate concerns, but it is conceivable that the Warriors’ big four can maintain good individual statistical averages because they are all capable of playing efficiently. If so, in basketball terms, the Warriors’ stars would be living in a post-scarcity basketball world.
And if they find themselves in this position, the next question will be whether they can be satisfied by the lofty 24th century ideals of Captain Picard, i.e. being driven by team success, or whether they will shift their focus and compete for other things, like prestige.
So far, the big four has said and done everything right. But until someone hoists the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of this upcoming season, we won’t know exactly how this will work. It was reported that Stephen Curry told Kevin Durant that he doesn’t care about who will be the face of the franchise, who gets the most recognition, or who sells the most shoes. But how much does Durant care about those things? Klay Thompson and Draymond Green took favorable deals for the Warriors to enable the team to build. Will Curry and Durant follow suit next offseason? These are questions, among others, that will determine whether the team can play together and stay together. Are we witnessing a next generation basketball superteam that will live long and prosper, or will they crash and burn?
I, for one, am optimistic about how the big four will handle this season and beyond, but only time will tell how it all pans out. I hope that these guys are who I think they are. Please...
...make it so.