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World Cup or NBA championship: Which is easier to predict?

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The NBA is supposed to be different. For decades, the teams with the worst records have had first picks in the NBA draft. The league also has a salary cap designed to keep richer teams from outspending poorer ones in the search for talented players.

But since the 1984-85 season, when the modern cap was instituted, the three top teams (L.A., Chicago, and the San Antonio Spurs) have been even more dominating than in earlier NBA history. One of them has won the championship 69 percent of the time.

Unlike soccer leagues in Europe, many US professional leagues adopt salary caps and other rules designed to make the competition more even. It's a concept known as competitive balance.

"That seems to matter to fans, though it's not clear to me how much it matters" to the leagues, says Allen Sanderson, a sports economist at the University of Chicago.

Take professional football. One of the three teams (the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, or San Francisco Forty-Niners) has won the Super Bowl 36 percent of the time. Since the league instituted a hard salary cap (with fewer loopholes than the NBA), has that percentage declined?

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