Ann Coulter recently found herself in hot water by asserting that the Republicans’ blacks are better than the Democrats’ blacks. NBA Commissioner David Stern is probably sighing to himself about how basketball’s 80s and mid-90s blacks were better than today’s blacks.
Stern canceled all NBA games through November, a move that means the entire 2011-2012 season is almost sure to be called off due to contractual disputes between the owners and players. Pity, too: The 2010-2011 season’s cable ratings were producing record numbers. (Few games are broadcast on network TV anymore; the demand isn’t there.) Last season’s NBA Finals, featuring the Dirk Nowitzki-led Dallas Mavericks v. the Miami Heat’s three-headed monster, reminded some longtime fans of the titanic battles between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson from the 1980s.
Stern will fondly recall those Boston teams—the whitest in a league that has been consistently 70% or more black since 1980—that had Bird, Danny Ainge, and Kevin McHale taking the NBA to unprecedented business heights with their classic struggles against Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Los Angeles Lakers.
It could be argued that the NBA’s run of success was fueled not by Michael Jordan, but by a reigniting of interest in basketball among white fans that began to taper off when the length of the player’s shorts began to increase. (The 2003 retirement of Utah Jazz white point guard John Stockton signified the official end of that era.)
The 1992 book The Selling of the Green: The Financial Rise and Moral Decline of the Boston Celtics argues that the Celtics’ cultivation of a majority-white roster in a league dominated by black players was a disgusting and amoral move. Two decades later, it’s obvious that a league that has now dropped to fourth in per-game attendance among professional sports (NFL, MLB, then…Major League Soccer) is in serious trouble.
Even into the Jordan-led Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 90s that produced six NBA championships, Chicago implemented the Celtics’ strategy by sporting a roster much whiter than the overall league percentage.
Complaining about this is similar to arguing that America was founded by racist Indian-killers. So what? For 20 years running, the league’s black players have had the opportunity to earn unprecedentedly lavish contracts that have made them fabulously wealthy (for a few years, that is), yet one is hard-pressed to identify other forms of labor they could perform that would pad their bank accounts like shooting a ball through a hoop does.
In 2008, ESPN’s Michael Wilbon wrote a Washington Post column noting that the Celtics were no longer the majority-white team of the past; they were now a team that reflected the league’s racial makeup.
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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