Did you hear...it happened last weekend-- it was at an event called, from what I hear, "All Star Weekend."
Damn, I love the NBA. I used to catch the #49 bus to watch the Lakers play at a venue on Figueora Street known eponymously as the Sports Arena. (Not sure what that means except the fact that I am, what advertisers called, mature.) I used to get up early every Saturday to watch the ABA game of the week (which usually featured the Virginia Squires against somebody. Chick Hearn, the most famous voice in L.A. sports, sat high above the Western sideline at the 'Fabulous Forum," He was my beacon...for my life, at least when I wasn't playing, revolved around the Lakers and the NBA. Long before Sportscenter and the Internet, my crew dialogue about the comparison goal percentage of Jerry West versus "Big-O,' and Dave Bing-- or, whether Bernard King was a better shooter than Cazzie Russell.
And now, in 2007, the NBA is dying and I lament that black people are going to be charged with a homicide.
According to the best intelligence available, NBA All-Star weekend has become (according to Kansas CIty Star columnist, Mr. Jason Whitlock, 'the rebirth of Freak-nick.)
For the non-historical, that is code for saying, 'this sh-t is too Black.'
David Stern can only keep the flame burning for so long-- if the NBA becomes 'too-Black' and NBA All Star Weekend becomes another excuse for the Hip-Hop generation to party, the league isn't going to make it.
Black people worship the NBA-- the NFL is like a cousin who comes around for dinner a few times a year--they're cool and everything..but, if you see them, you see them and if you don't...you don't. MLB is akin to an Aunt who lives is a Retirement home-- you see her on her birthday and that's about it... the NBA, however, is like your lover...he energy of James Brown, the crackling earthiness of Billie Holiday and sweet smoothness of Ella.
We long for the the NBA the way one longs for their lover.
So, why are we black people going to be charged with its death? Easy, because revenues will escape through a gaping hole if the league is branded as 'too black.' Really, 'too urban and too hip-hop.' The league will be forced to change its business model for two reasons:
1.) Advertisers and marketers dismiss the economic significance of African-Americans (unless the products and Lincoln Navigators, Sneakers, logo apparel, or Chicken)
2.) The NBA marketing 'working group' will tell the Commissioner this: " If we want a 'Hip-Hop' league we'll rent the And-One Mix tape and DVD combo from Blockbuster.
Admittedly, marketing the NBA is a prickly conundrum, frustratingly paradoxical.
Who represents the leagues' core audience? TV revenue, worth $3B, is the most secure stream with the ABC, ESPN and TNT contracts locked up. I mean, given a choice between the NBA on TNT and "The White Rapper Show," what are you going to watch? (Well, I guess it depends on who's playing...after all, there is a ghetto revival!) Males in the 17-to-34 demographic watch the NBA relentlessly and who in the analysis-obsessed world of Madison Ave. isn't lusting after this group.
Revenue loss will be present itself in the reduced yield from luxury box sales and game attendance. Many whites-- even in the multic-cultural world of 2007-- are gravely uncomfortable around blacks in a social setting--and the hip-hop generation makes white folks even more uncomfortable that a poster of Kunta Kinte. Instead of going to the arena, they're going to stay home, have the Higginbothams over for Crab Cakes, Bay Scallops and Pinot Grigio while watching the game on NBA league pass.
Hardcore fans and purists like me are incapable of leaving--but, the fickle, cost/benefi analysis Corporate types -- an essential piece of the revenue stream- with luxury boxes and high-dollars lower level seats will abandon the league for the lighter hues and easier-to-market orbs of baseball and hockey.
Basketball is the city game and the rural game--it is the game for the disaffected and the disenfranchised. It is not the game of the elite--it never was and never will be. If Jesus were on Earth today, he'd be at 'Rec' saying, "I got next." He damn sure wouldn't be at Yankee Stadium or, God forbid, Augusta.
Small wonder that on outdoor courts from Quezon City to Vilnius to the villages of Croatia, basketball is the game of the people.
But a lot of the people are broke, aren't they?
NBA teams must meet payroll every two weeks--therefore, incremental revenue streams and yield are topics that must be brought to the the table. The business of basketball is as real as a triple-double. NBA owners did not become owners by ignoring this business paradigm: Everyone in the company is in sales--from the CEO to the janitor, it is about the sales.
And what smart business person doesn't listen when a top customer says, "Your product is flawed. Either fix it, or I'm going elsewhere."
I am a basketball purist. The game is my first love. I'd watch the NBA no matter what --but, those like me are in the minority. There are tactical moves the Competition Committee could make (shortening the season by at least 12 games) and going to a more Euroleague style format for the championship) that would enhance the NBA game.
The game, though, must not be hijacked by the Luxury Box Cartel nor the Hip-Hop posse. The inherent beauty of the game is reflected by its inclusive nature--there is room for the needs of both constituencies.
All Star Weekend has morphed into something more complex than the designers had in mind. New Orleans (the site of '08 game) will represent the climactic moment detailing the future of All-Star weekend...what happens there will determine the fate of the weekend and perhaps, even how the league is marketed.