A Lesson from Boy Meets World about OKC and the James Harden Trade

Last weekend, just days before the NBA season started, a trade shook up the professional basketball landscape unlike any of the other recent blockbusters. To preempt a contract negotiation that Oklahoma City couldn’t afford, James Harden was traded from the Thunder to the Rockets for a bunch of draft picks and two players who aren’t anything to write home about a this point in their careers.

As Thanksgiving approaches, it’s time that all of us surveyed our life to take inventory of the things that make us who we are. Paramount for me is 1990’s television. Paramount for you is this blog. This particular post is a wedding of the two. It’s time for another sports lesson from ‘90s TV.

This particular moral is from Boy Meets World’s “Turkey Day” and regards a direct confrontation with social classes, more importantly the permanence of the divide between the haves and the have-nots.

What did we learn from the episode that prepares us to handle the James Harden trade? As usual, I’ll start with a quick episode recap and then spell out the takeaways.

Episode Summary

We open in Mr. Feeny’s class as he is wrapping up a lecture about an international conflict that has resulted from a social war between the African Tutsis and Hutus, essentially the upper class and the lower class. The foreshadowing is so thick you can cut it with a knife.

Boy Meets World dropping the Havens/Have-nots knowledge in 1996. Why didn’t we remember?

After the lecture, Feeny names the winners of this year’s Thanksgiving food drive, which just happen to be our heroes Cory and Shawn. The two of them argue over how to split the spoils of the contest (“There’s stuffing, and you either have it or you don’t”) and eventually decide that instead of splitting up the winnings, they will join their families together for the first ever Matthews/Hunter family Thanksgiving dinner. It was a beautiful idea in theory.

In practice, it’s much harder than they think.

The Matthews family (upper-middle class) has a hard time adjusting to life in the trailer park where the Hunters live. They worry about cleanliness, theft and the general quality of people. Meanwhile, the residents of the trailer park resent the Matthews, calling a neighborhood meeting to demand their prompt departure.

The Matthews and the Hunter families have obviously different standards with regards to food, wine, flatware and customs.

Both sides try to warm up to the other, but in the end, there is a noticeable inability to merge the two classes into one holiday celebration. The divide was just too deep. The entire experience is summed up in a few lines of dialogue among the parents:

Mrs. Hunter: “What’s important to realize is that some folks just don’t blend together so well”
Mr. Hunter: “We should just leave it that way”
Mr. Matthews: “Doesn’t make it anybody’s fault”

What We Learned

Like it or not, everyone is not always on the same playing field. Sometimes the reality is that some parties are more advantaged than the rest and no amount of effort or intentional opinion shifts will correct that.

As Shawn summarizes: “It’s bigger than me, Cory. It’s bigger than both of us.”

The same is true in the NBA. A handful of teams have the money to go buy a ton of players and those teams are usually represented at the final stages of the playoffs. The Lakers, Heat, Bulls, Celtics, Knicks, Mavericks Nets, etc. spend way over the soft cap limit and well into the luxury tax every year and to end up with one or two superstars more than the smaller market teams. That’s just the way it is.

The Thunder are not one of those teams. Even though OKC made the NBA Finals last year, they’re not an elite spending team, and a lot of that has to do with the size of the market they are in.

There’s nothing anyone can do about it, some teams can spend more than others so they do. While teams like the Lakers, Heat and Celtics are infamous for blowing past the salary cap line to sign teams made up of several mega-stars, teams like the Thunder can’t afford to do that, so they have to let their players go. Like it or not, this is the NBA we have.  Forcing all the teams to play in the same league with the same soft salary cap doesn’t make them equals.

The Thunder won’t ever sign 3 All-stars (sorry, Serge) to long-term deals. Neither will the Bucks, the Raptors, the Pacers, the Grizzlies, the Kings or any of the non-major market teams.

Want to hear something funny about the Thunder’s trade? They got three draft picks – two first-rounders and a second-rounder. Even if they strike gold on all three picks, they’ll still be in the same situation they’re in now when those rookie contracts expire. The myth of the small market teams is that they can’t acquire big names in free agency, but they can still compete if they draft well and manage their existing contracts reasonably. Well the Thunder have done just that and a team with deeper pockets came in and gave them an ultimatum to either match their big offer or lose their own home-grown player at the end of the season. In the end, they took what they could get in return and cut ties with Harden.

This is the NBA and like it or not, that’s how it is. It won’t change, you just have to get used to it. Shawn and Cory got over it. You can too.