ynasty or parity?
One of the fundamental queries for sports fans that colors the prism through which fans view athletic competition.
The answer would probably be a nearly even split worldwide. It’s an answer that leads to some of the greatest sports debates, and it’s one that is particularly noteworthy in what thus far has been a dynastic sports year, 2019.
Longtime readers of this column can probably figure out which side I’m on. My answer 100 times out of 100 when weighing those two black-and-white options is parity.
Parity enables as many franchises as possible to compete for championships. With parity, only the truly inept are left behind. It gives hope to franchises that might not have as many advantages (i.e. proximity to beaches, no state income tax) to attract premium free agents. I prefer parity for two reasons. One, it enables more of a league’s top players to get the chance to play on a sport’s biggest stage rather than the same teams making it to the championship round year after year. Two, it allows more fanbases to be invested in a season, knowing the final outcome could come down to more than just a handful of squads.
While I view sports dynasties as monopolies, there are plenty of reasons that I could be wrong. For one, it only seems logical (and capitalistic) that the most successful people in a sports league should reap the benefits. If one franchise is doing things better than everyone else (hiring the right head coach, forming the best fitting lineup, etc.), then that team should be the king. Dynasties also often raise the bar for other franchises who aren’t winning championships, which can result in a better product long-term. And the most critical reason to support dynasties is that they tend to attract more attention. It’s almost human nature to want to be in the presence of greatness, whether in person or through a TV, and it’s also human nature to want to see that greatness torn down. Dynasty proponents argue that league revenue is higher when one team is dominating, and they aren’t wrong.
While the dynasty vs. parity debate will continue on as long as organized sports are played, 2019 has been a win for the dynasty lovers.
The year began in January with the Clemson Tigers winning the college football national championship. While Clemson, which has now won two of the last three titles, isn’t nearly as dynastic as their championship game opponent, the Alabama Crimson Tide (winners of 5 of the last 10 titles), the Tigers appear well on their way to consistent domination over the next decade.
Next came the New England Patriots winning Super Bowl LIII in our backyard of Atlanta on Feb. 3. Despite playing in the U.S.’s lone major professional sports league that actually touts parity, the NFL Pats have won 3 of the last 5 Super Bowls and 6 in the past 18 seasons. The Pats, who have played in a record 8 straight conference championship games, are perhaps the greatest post-merger dynasty in NFL history.
One week before the Super Bowl, tennis star Novak Djokovic took the dynasty element to an individual sport when he captured his third straight Grand Slam championship at the Australian Open. If Djokovic wins the French Open this weekend, he will become the first player in the Open era to win four straight majors twice in a career. But if Djokovic falls short in Paris, another dynastic performer will likely be the cause. Clay court legend Rafael Nadal is seeking his record 12th French Open title, having captured 11 of the last 14 championships at Roland Garros. How’s this for clay court dominance? Nadal’s quarterfinal win on Tuesday improved his lifetime record at the French Open to 91-2.
Just two weeks ago, golfer Brooks Koepka established his own dynasty with a win at the PGA Championship at feared Bethpage Black. Aided by a scheduling quirk, Koepka became the first player in golf history to hold simultaneously the U.S. Open and PGA Championship trophies in back-to-back years. However, if Koepka, who has now won 4 of the last 8 majors, wins a third straight U.S. Open at Pebble Beach next week, there won’t be anything quirky about that. At just 29 years old, Koepka would announce himself as golf’s most dominant presence since Tiger Woods’ heyday in the mid 2000s.
Arguably the most notable dynasty in sports today is happening right now in the NBA. The polarizing Golden State Warriors, approaching the finish line of their quest to win a fourth title in five years, perfectly encapsulate the dynasty vs. parity debate. Through shrewd drafting, a smart coaching hire and a revolutionary style, the Warriors rose rapidly from perennial doormat to the greatest regular season team in league history in 2015-16. But after falling short of a title by a single game in the 2016 playoffs, the then-lovable Warriors doubled down on their dominance, adding NBA superstar Kevin Durant. Ever since, basketball fans have either revered or abhorred Golden State with very little in-between. This postseason has become almost as much a referendum on how easily the Warriors can win a title without Durant, who has been injured for the past four weeks, than whether any of the other 29 franchises can win a title at all. And if Golden State wins without Durant, will he bail in free agency this summer? Even if Durant does leave, the remaining Warriors have served notice this postseason that this dynasty shows no sign of letting up.
My favorite dynasty of the last few weeks hasn’t even been in traditional “sports.” It’s been the ongoing reign of terror that professional sports gambler James Holzhauer inflicted on the “Jeopardy” competition. Until finally losing on Monday (an episode actually taped in March), Holzhauer won 32 consecutive episodes, the second longest streak in history, and won over $2.4 million, setting a new per-episode record haul. Holzhauer brought a completely unique approach to a staid game show, betting more aggressively than any previous contestant. He also brought a cocky swagger rarely seen on “Jeopardy.” And, like the Warriors, many “Jeopardy” viewers loved him and many others probably didn’t hate him but were at least tired of him.
So if there’s anything to be learned from sports in 2019, it is for parity lovers like me to admire the genius with which these dynasties perform. If you can’t beat them, join them.
And no matter how dominant these dynasties have been, there are still those moments when parity reigns. Virginia bounced back from an historic first-round NCAA Tournament loss in 2018 to capture the school’s first-ever men’s basketball championship in April. Woods overcame some self-imposed demons to win his first major championship in a decade at The Masters. Just last weekend, a previously unknown California native named Andy Ruiz Jr. became the heavyweight champion of the world, dropping ex-champ Anthony Joshua four times. And on Monday night, the St. Louis Blues evened up the Stanley Cup Finals at 2-2 in their quest to win the franchise’s first NHL title in its 52 years of existence.
Dynasty or parity? The sports world needs both.