Sports Sense: Since when did rebuilding become tanking?

Eric Landis ('17), Eastside Staff

As a fan of sports, I like to get my money’s worth. I always want my team to win and to play to the best of their ability when I go to a game. I get really angry if they don’t; unless they’re rebuilding, or as the 2010’s sports world identifies it: tanking.

Tanking is a relatively new thing. No one really started talking about it at least extensively until the 2014 NBA Draft, when teams clamored for a high pick to nab Kansas star Andrew Wiggins or Duke sensation Jabari Parker. And what did all this hype lead to? Wiggins was traded for somebody better than him (at least for now) by a team who really did not need him, and Parker tore his ACL, not to mention the fact that the team that drafted him, supposedly in dire need of a franchise player, will almost certainly make the playoffs this year without him.

Tanking really has only been talked about in terms of the NBA. Last year it was the tank for Wiggins, this year the Knicks, Timberwolves, 76ers and Lakers, among others, are clamoring for Duke center Jahlil Okafor, who could be a franchise-changing player. The aforementioned teams have been noted for starting pretty poor lineups compared to those of recent years, and therefore are considered to be tanking. But has it ever crossed anyone’s mind that they may not be trying to lose and that they are just plain bad? If a team is really trying to lose, why don’t they just forfeit the games or throw a bunch of emus out on the floor…

The reality is that a team cannot do that because they have fans, and fans bring in revenue to help run the team. A team cannot say to their fans, “hey, we’re trying to lose to get the number one overall pick to change our team, see you in five years,” because their fans would lose trust in the team and stop following them, failing to return to buy tickets to cover the costs of the players they drafted.

Moreover, if a team is trying to get high picks, they are rebuilding, not tanking. When a team is not winning and there is no hope of making the playoffs for the foreseeable future, you make changes, not stand pat. Nothing is worse than mediocrity in my opinion. There is no drive, no hope in the team. It is simply a non-competitive team swirling in ambivalence. With a rebuilding team, there is hope and drive for the future that the team will get better eventually…

Critics of tanking or rebuilding say that the movement loses fans, but that I say is simply not true. The 76ers are in a rebuild now and were right after they traded their star Allen Iverson. But now the 76ers have much more hype than their first rebuild and they are a much worse team now than they were before.

Tanking is rebuilding. There, they are the same thing. In essence nothing has changed: bad teams need to acquire pieces to become good again and, therefore, have to be bad for a while. This is why I tolerate tanking, because tanking is rebuilding and I tolerate rebuilding due to my hatred of teams that remain mediocre. Even if teams are tanking, look at the wonders tanking has brought us, such as the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Washington Wizards current teams.

So this begs the question: if tanking can resuscitate a team’s life, why should there be so much stigma around it?