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Friday, June 09, 2006

Dumb, Fat and Now They Wake Up and Are Unhappy

The NBA, that is.

For a while I've been arguing that Commish David Stern has to make up his mind about his product. Does he want to stress the purity of the game or does he want to stress entertainment? At best, he's sent a mixed message that he wants both. But at worst, and probably closer to the truth, he's stressed packaging, marketing and, yes, entertainment. No, it's not as bad as pro wrestling, of course, but the quality of the product is bad.

And now the Commish is lamenting the quality of the feeder system that exists in the United States. Huh?

Of course the feeder system is corrupt and bad. There are too many hangers on wanting a piece of good sixth graders, who are told they're so wonderful before they're even on a travel team that they become difficult to deal with. As the linked article points out, the European systems are more humble and stress the fundamentals more -- hence the arrival of so many good non-Americans to the National Basketball Association.

Is the NBA to blame here? Is American society to blame? Is the ESPN "Sports Center"-induced slam-dunk culture indictable?

I think that blame can be apportioned on all fronts. The NBA, with all of its razzmattazz, should have caused Red Auerbach to have a fatal stroke years ago. The NBA itself in the post-Jordan era particularly has stressed individuals over team, has too many teams making the playoffs and has offenses that are about as creative as the lyricist who wrote Allen Iverson's rap songs. The NBA hasn't encouraged the development of players who can hit the mid-range jumper, find the open teammate, play the game at both ends, set a pick and generally do what it takes to make his team win. At least in America, it hasn't. The NBA has sent a message that kids should buy their overpriced merchandise, wear bling and "pump it up."

Whatever the heck that means.

American society is also to blame, because in the neverending search for celebrities, it is telling young stars that it's more important to be a star than it is to be fundamentally sound. Some kids just get bad advice, and there are those out there who give that advice to suit their own ends and not those of the young man. That's plain wrong, but it's not a totally new phenomenon. Neither is selfishness among teenagers. At the heart of the issue, though, lies outside influences on young stars that prevents them from putting the team first.

Finally, the "Sports Center" culture tells kids that to get on "Sports Center", you need to be able to dunk spectacularly. Solid assists, good rebounds, deflections on defense and screens don't get you that mention.

Even if they do get your team to the championship series.

So, Commissioner Stern, take a long, hard look in the mirror. The way you have marketed the NBA -- which has garnered you the moniker of "marketing genius" -- has been a disservice to the quality of your product. Take some responsibility here and then work to fix the system.

Before many fans begin to realize that with many franchises, all that's there is packaging.

And an assemblage of individual talents that belies the name team.


Blogger Michael said...

The easy cure is to adopt the European league system of putting the kids in pro-programs at the age of 15 or 16. You change the dynamic of them learning how to play the game instead of the coach trying to make them happy, they have to make the coach happy.

9:36 AM  
Anonymous The Sports Curmudgeon said...

How about making any dunk worth only one point. That might reduce the strutting and preening opportunities for players...

3:12 PM  

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