LeBron James only steals the show if you let him

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James_solo.jpgThere’s little doubt that July will belong to LeBron James. Regardless of whether he stays or goes, the endless speculation concerning his future, his decision-making, and his rationale will be put under the world’s largest internet-powered microscope, and every other sports-related topic will be put on the back-burner. That’s just what happens when the biggest name in basketball becomes an unrestricted free agent after promoting the event years in advance.

If James manages to upstage the finals, though, there’s no one to blame but ourselves. Lakers-Celtics seems set to be a truly special series, and while there’s obviously enough online real estate to cover this, that, and all other stories, emphasis is dictated by media members and media consumers. If the idea of LeBron stepping in front of the spotlight is really all that irking, why not exercise the right to just ignore it? Or at least circumvent it?

It’s not as if James holds some magical power over the nation’s attention span. His name in glittering lights piques the interest of the adoring masses, but there’s always a choice. Every time there’s a half-time show on LeBron’s future, the remote is in your hands. Every time there’s a headline about LeBron the free agent, there’s a decision on whether or not to click it. Maybe James is trying to stay on the tip of everyone’s tongue or maybe he’s not, but it doesn’t happen without our consent. It’s me, you, and everyone we know allowing LeBron into our homes, our cable boxes, and our browsers.

For basketball fans, the actual basketball will prevail. The two best teams in the league (and they are just that) with the two best playoff performers are about to slug it out over seven games, and if LeBron is really living in the limelight, it represents our own laziness as much as it does his self-obsession. How is Kevin Garnett going to defend Pau Gasol? Should Kobe Bryant guard Rajon Rondo? Will the Boston bench be able to withstand their toughest competition yet? There are countless stories and angles in this single series, and innumerable items of interest to grab our attention should we allow them to.

I’m not saying that other stories won’t pop up over the course of this series, or that they shouldn’t be given their due. Just that as free-thinking consumers, the point in complaining over what we have the right to choose is useless. Yes, LeBron wants attention; that much has been clear ever since his promotion of 2010 free agency began. I’m sure a lot of NBA players want the same, whether they’re playing in the finals or not.

We control whether he gets that attention, and we control our own response to it. If you don’t care about LeBron’s tell-nothing interviews, then don’t care. If you don’t want to hear about him during the finals, then don’t talk or write about him. And if you’re tired of him craving attention, then stop feeding it to him. LeBron may have the ability to create headlines, but it’s the consumers that determine their prominence and placement. James may be the star, but NBA fans have all the power.  

Mark Cuban says NBA player movement reflects job market across many industries

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It’s a question that came up a lot in the wake of a wild summer where eight of the 24 players in the All-Star Game just last February ended up on new teams:

Is all this player movement good for the NBA?

It got asked everywhere from the league’s headquarters to your local bar, from sports talk radio shows to the NBA’s owners meeting in Las Vegas. There’s no easy answer to that. However, the divide seems to be somewhat generational — older fans miss the stability of knowing their stars would be there next year, young fans like the volatility and fast-changing landscape.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban had an interesting perspective on all this: What you see in the NBA is what you see in almost every industry now. From Cuban’s blogmaverick.com:

Some feel that the player movement we have seen, particularly players asking to be traded or leaving teams that have the ability to pay them more money is a problem. I don’t. I think it is exactly what we should expect and it reflects what is happening in the job market across industries in our country.

No longer do college students graduate in search of a career where they expect to spend their entire adult lives working for a single company. Just the thought is crazy. I tell college graduates to look for a job where they get to learn about themselves, the business world, adulting and what they love to do and can be good at it. That their first job is just that, their first job. There will be many more…

Your best of the best will be impactful not only within the company, but via social media and other online platforms, visible as the best in their industry. It is important to give them reasons to want to stay. Great employees are effectively always free agents with the ability to move anywhere.

Why should it be any different for the NBA?

It’s interesting to hear from an owner (guys who traditionally want to control the workers). From a player’s perspective, this makes a lot of sense (and Cuban is as player-friendly an owner as the league has).

In a lot of ways, what bothers fans really applies to only the elite players, the guys with leverage, the guys who change the course of a franchise. If Paul George wants out of his contract, the reaction of Thunder management and fans would be different from if Dennis Schroder tried that kind of power move.

However, does this player movement erode the traditional fan base? Fans in Dallas/Miami/Boston/Los Angeles/everywhere want to identify with players, not just the logo across their chest. If the star players are changing teams more often how does that impact that traditional fandom? Do younger players become fans of players more: A LeBron James fan, a Stephen Curry fan, a James Harden fan, and their loyalties follow the player not the franchise? We seem to have more of that with Lebron and Curry. Cuban worked hard to make sure Dirk Nowitzki never left Dallas. (Going back there was a split between Lakers fans and Kobe fans, it’s just their interests largely always aligned.)

Which leads to the original, key question: Is all this player movement good for NBA business?

For the league and owners, the real question is will the undeniable social media buzz of the NBA offseason lead to increased ticket sales, increased viewership (or at least stopping that decline), more purchasing of League Pass packages (in whatever form), more jersey sales and all the rest of it? Can the league monetize this buzz?

Nobody has the answer to that, in part because how we as a nation (and world) consume media is changing so fast. What will the viewing landscape for the NBA’s television and streaming deals look like in 2024? 2029? Nobody knows.

Which means predicting how this player movement impacts the NBA is an unknown.

All the movement is creating a lot of buzz, which is nice, but buzz will not pay the NBA’s bills.

Damian Lillard on shot to beat Thunder: ‘That was for Seattle’

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Damian Lillard is a legend in Portland. He’s a legend in Oakland.

And now he’ll be a legend in Seattle.

The Trail Blazers star’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer wave goodbye ended the season for the Thunder, who moved to Oklahoma City from Seattle 12 years ago.

Lillard on Sports Business Radio Podcast:

What can I say? That was for Seattle.

Just when I thought Lillard’s shot and celebration were as cold as could be.

Clippers executive Jerry West: ‘I’ve never been around any organization that is better than this one’

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Jerry West played 14 years for the Lakers, making the All-Star game every year and winning a championship in a Hall of Fame career. He coached the Lakers to a few playoff seasons. Then, he ran the Lakers’ front office for 18 years, winning five titles and setting the stage for several more by acquiring Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Now, West works for Clippers owner Steve Ballmer.

West on The Dan Patrick Show:

Steve Ballmer has really put together an unbelievably terrific organization. He’s spared no expense. It’s a really fun place to be. There’s not ego-driven at all. It’s just a fun place to be, and he’s got an awful lot of basketball people over there.

He’s just a great owner and one of the nicest men I’ve ever been around in my life. I’ve never seen a person like this with his success. It’s just remarkable how even-keeled he is. If people knew how philanthropic he was. He keeps all that stuff quiet. I guess he’ll get mad at me for mentioning it. But he’s just a remarkable man himself.

People always ask me what he’s like. And I say he’s just like you and I, normal. I’ve never seen – he’s willing to spend on players. He’s willing to spend on personnel within the front office. And as I mentioned before, I’ve never been around any organization that is better than this one. That’s for sure.

Maybe West is bitter at the Lakers. Maybe West is just gushing about his current boss, because that’s who pays him now.

But the wider respect held for the Clippers is evident in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George picking them without the team first getting an incumbent star. That says a lot about the organization, one that Ballmer has put his stamp on.

This also feels like a shot at the Lakers, whether or not West intended it. Many consider them to be the NBA’s golden franchise.

But their operations have had no shortage of problems lately.

The Lakers would have a stronger relative case further back, when West worked for them. However, organizations generally run better now. The league is more advanced. Maybe West is considering that.

Biases aside, his endorsement of the Clippers might be accurate.

West also worked for the Grizzlies.