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Friday, November 26


Is NBA Thuggery Sustainable?

This blog is generally an all-Longhorn sports commentary, but from time to time, general interest sports stories will be discussed. We won’t cover every day events, but big stories that are of interest to all sports fans will find their way into the discussion from time to time.

If you are alive and have a television, you’ve no doubt seen the countless replays of the Pistons and Pacers fight last Friday night. I won’t go into any kind of recap or talk about the historic punishments doled out by Commissioner David Stern, but there are some big issues that are worth discussing.

The best analyses of the whole incident focus not so much on what actually transpired in that particular fight, but rather on the bigger challenge that the NBA is facing right now: that there is an increasing gap between NBA fans and its players.

As the Washington Post’s Michael Wilbon correctly notes, “League and club executives decided to marry the NBA to hip-hop, and clearly didn't know what they were getting into.”

This is a marriage of significant consequence to the league for several reasons. For starters, most of the ticket-holders to NBA games don’t identify with the hip-hop culture. NBA tickets are outrageously expensive, meaning only the well-to-do can attend the games. Last time I checked, hip-hop’s audience is not the well-to-do.

But what about the marketing of the sport outside the arena? The hip-hop image of the league does sell well with the younger hip-hop generation of consumers, but many of those consumers can’t afford to go to the games. The music business does remarkably well selling the hip-hop image to younger consumers, but that’s because that generation of consumers will buy the CDs and go to the concerts. How many young fans are at NBA games without their parents or on their own dollar? Not nearly enough to fill the seats.

The NBA faces a serious dilemma. On the one hand, it’s profitable to sell the hip-hop image to the consumers outside the arenas who buy the jerseys and worship the stars that endorse products and permeate American cultural life. On the other hand, the increasing thuggery of the league is a real turn-off to most mainstream, older fans. I’m of the opinion that the league can’t afford to lose the latter crowd. Younger fans will still idolize the stars, even if they shed the bad boy images and just play ball.

But then again, maybe not. Tim Duncan, one of the three best players in the league, is among the least admired among younger fans. Nevertheless, the NBA has got to find a way to have marketable players with credibility among the younger crowds while not alienating its ticket-holding base. If not, the idolized entertainment stars will be putting on their show in empty arenas.


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