November 11, 2011

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson

Perhaps it was when Allen Iverson entered the league in 1996 that the unofficial shift to the hip-hop, tattoo, gangsta-rap generation began, one that slowly drove away casual fans.

An 2004 ESPN article bragged about how hip-hop had transformed the game and the NBA’s culture but failed to consider the long-term problems of going all-in on this version of the game and how it would turn off fans.

Corporate America was already weary of the NBA’s shift into the hip-hop mentality as early as 2001 (save Nike, McDonald’s, Gatorade, and Sprite, which have gone 365Black in their corporate strategies) with concerns of how middle America would embrace the league’s new tattooed-and-braided thuggish hoopsters. Writing last year around the time of the All Star break, Friday Night Lights author Buzz Bissinger started a mini-controversy by asserting that white people no longer cared about the game. Judging by poor attendance numbers (NBA teams have long relied on the white middle class to purchase tickets), Bissinger isn’t far from the truth.

The bulk of NBA revenue is derived from an outlandish and completely unjustifiable television contract the league has with ESPN and TNT. Seventeen of the league’s 30 teams are losing serious money.

In 2009, as the league was hemorrhaging sponsors and posting poor attendance numbers, an emergency $200-million loan was distributed to 15 teams, with Stern admitting the league’s balance sheet wasn’t healthy. Though some dispute the owners’ claims of financial problems, one thing is certain: The NBA’s teams are overvalued, and the silence surrounding the lockout only confirms this.

Another deadline passed Wednesday, as the owners and players were unable to come to terms on revenue-sharing and the initiation of a salary ceiling. Sources cannot confirm that the removal of the Jerry West silhouette from the NBA logo is part of the deal, since he represents an NBA that is long extinct.

As Stern continues to lock horns with the NBA Players Association Union Director Billy Hunter over the revenue split, you know that he longs for the days of Bird v. Magic. But the league hedged its investment by going full hip-hop, a move that turned away fans who also longed for those days.

It turned away fans to the point that most people don’t care about the NBA at all. They’d rather watch soccer.



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