SportsProf

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Trouble With the NBA

Read this, which happened, of course, at the last home game, on Fan Appreciation Night.

And then you have permission to barf, yes barf, which is perhaps the strongest word I've used on this blog, all over the NBA.

Commissioner David Stern can talk in saccharine tones about how many franchises he's introduced, that the league has offices in 11 cities, how many hits their website gets, all the merchandise they sell and all sorts of metrics that belie one simple fact -- the league offers a bad product and the league's image is just plain bad.

Here you had two stalwarts, Allen Iverson and Chris Webber, not showing up until tipoff time. Great example, huh? They both decided that they were not going to play. Again, great example, right? Especially when it's rumored that the 76ers might finally deal Iverson after this season. Where's the respect for the fans who have cheered you for almost ten years? Where's the opportunity to say goodbye to them? As for Webber, it turns out that not only has he not been clutch during crunch time for his teams, he also shows bad judgment on fan relations matters when it matters most.

Yet the NBA now has a dress code, some of its players are more popular than rap stars, it's prevented the pro hoops version of juvenile delinquency by banning eighteen year-olds and you can buy a Tim Duncan jersey at a Wal-Mart. All of those dollars cannot buy the excellence that the league used to represent when players named Jordan, Bird and Johnson roamed the hardwood and played with an intensity that made every game worth going to. Commissioner Stern can talk in Hollywood's tones about packaging and merchandising, but remember that no matter how you dress up a product, if it's bad, people will stop buying it. There's more trademarked NBA merchandise than ever, precisely when the quality of play has weakened the strength of the brand from at least a basketball perspective.

And who cares about a jersey when it's hard to understand what it really represents?

I loved taking my son to his first NBA game and liked the fact that the bright lights, fast and athletic play really excited him. But at some point he'll figure out where he'll devote his attention, and I wonder how the NBA will continue to draw fans. The tickets are expensive, and lots of parents teach their kids that not everything that glitters is made of gold. I wrote in an earlier post tonight about my sports equivalent of Willie Wonka's Golden Ticket.

And somehow I doubt that spending $125 for two good seats to a game at the end of the season where the Nets leave Richard Jefferson at home and sit Jason Kidd and the home team's two best players don't play will be golden tickets.

More like lead ones to me.

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