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Friday, April 23, 2021

A 40-Year Perspective: The NBA’s Own Entertainment Meets Global Demand

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Michael Kressley raised troubling questions about the NBA’s current involvement in the entertainment industry when he played for the Warriors in the mid-1980s. At the time, Kressley said, he feared for his safety as his nickname “Jack Bloggs” made him a regular target of fans and he faced racist taunts.

Kressley, a former NBA player and coach, died in February at 74. The signs of the game’s media and marketing surge — embodied by the retired NBA star Shaquille O’Neal’s charitable, popular and lucrative expansion of his “Shaq-O-Rama” restaurant chain — remain and may not yet diminish.

The league experienced a dramatic three-year revival beginning in 2000 when it experienced unprecedented growth in television ratings and attendance. This massive jolt grew partly because of the league’s investments in new arenas and a new era of television revenue distribution; the network partners have not expanded their TV schedules or locked in new long-term deals as the NBA has.

A relentless round of trades, team payrolls and players salaries, called a “super team” by observers, placed yet another dampener on basketball competitiveness, both nationally and among many of the NBA’s smaller owners. It made it harder for teams to benefit from the usual set of advantages.

The trend may ease in the next decade. Owners who view the NBA’s entertainment bonanza as a way to increase interest in the game will help their ratings by signing fewer players to “super contracts”; at the same time, television viewers will see fewer all-star game shenanigans on the court.

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