Diss Guy Miss Guy, Vol. 80

Diss Guy: The eyes and ears are Everywhere: How Ray Rice, Bruce Levenson, and Danny Ferry were Exposed

My God man, it’s like it was yesterday that Tricky Dick Nixon was posted up in the oval office recording every little sound that escaped the lips of his guests and cronies. Then in the Boyz n tha Hood 90s there was Rodney King’s vicious beat down at the hands and night sticks of the LAPD which was caught by the all-seeing eye of a well-placed camcorder. And now we’ve arrived at a place where technology has delivered omnipresent eyes and ears that see and hear more evil and shame than any of us prefer and we all know this even though a few men in their infinite misjudgment or hubris would make us wonder if we really do know it.

Like Donald Sterling a few months ago, Ray Rice, Bruce Levenson, and Danny Ferry have been caught red-handed with irrefutable video (Rice), audio (Ferry), and electronic (Levenson) evidence of their affronts to the all-powerful corporate gods they serve. Without over-saturating your weary brain with a re-hashing and analysis of events, or the processing of race, gender, and domestic violence in American sports in 2014, the no-nonsense acknowledgement of a collision course between pro athletes (in this case a proxy of all western humankind) and technology is sufficient.

Domestic violence and racially-insensitive or biased feelings are still all too common aspects of our culture. Pro sports are no exception and we can find abusive athletes and racist owners as far back as our History of Sports almanacs will take us into the past. These actions are nothing new, but our front row voyeuristic access is something all of us are fidgeting into.

The raw game changer has been the endless reams of data collection—visceral videos, tasteless audio clips, and endless emails. Historically these views and actions have been hidden behind locked doors and confined to areas presumed to be safe and trustworthy. But we all know shit has changed and with that change suddenly every action short of the thoughts bouncing around in our schizophrenic minds has the potential to be recorded, analyzed, and criticized. Where a St. Louis Rams defensive end named Leonard Little was once able to commit involuntary vehicular manslaughter with his Lincoln Navigator while driving drunk, serve a little eight-game suspension, come back, get caught drunk driving again, and face no further suspension from the league, we now have the violent video of Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancée, life, and career into a strange limbo. Where David Halberstam’s groundbreaking Breaks of the Game plainly informed his audience of NBA owners’ and corporate America’s discomfort with the late-70s blackness of the NBA, there was barely a batted eye, but now we have Levenson’s email culled from over 24,000 Atlanta Hawks’ documents and the apparent catalyst behind Levenson selling his portion of the team. The mass collection, documentation, and presentation of all this information and these actions, coupled with an evolution of what is and is not socially acceptable, has created an atmosphere where certain actions and ideas are no longer tolerated – only no one really knows what is and isn’t acceptable in this new, rapidly evolving world.

For all of us, from Jennifer Lawrence’s stolen naked self-shots to the high school kid sending dick pics via Snapchat only to realize the pics don’t dissolve into digital nothingness, our sense of privacy and secrecy are being painfully and embarrassingly re-calibrated. And for the Ray Rices, Danny Ferrys, and Howard Levensons of the world, what would have once been shameful character flaws and secrets taken to the grave are now ugly scarlet letters with forever homes on the internet to be crawled and indexed by search engines, etched in pixelated eternity on Wikipedia pages and forever re-told as cautionary tales rookie symposiums and owners meetings. The eyes and ears are everywhere waiting for someone to screw up and the message from our favorite sports leagues is somewhere between “don’t do something that could harm the league” (and the billions of dollars at stake) and the more cynical, but more realistic “don’t get caught doing something that could harm the league.” We haven’t reached any absolute conclusions, but the presence of this mass surveillance is at least accelerating change whether we’re ready or not – and it’s clear some of us aren’t.

Miss Guy: RIP Marvin “Bad News” Barnes

On September 8th, basketball lost one of the all-time great characters in Marvin “Bad News” Barnes. Bob Costas compared the 6’8” power forward to Dr. J in terms of talent and he was similar to Earl “the Goat” Manigault or Lloyd “Sweet Pea” Daniels or even Len Bias in that he was a world class player who squandered his bountiful gifts away in exchange for drugs and alcohol.

To riff on the above evolution of 24/7 surveillance where smart phones can document the actions of anyone anywhere at any time, the American Original that was Marvin Barnes will never be again. While his drug use was so powerful that it derailed what, by all accounts, should’ve been a Hall of Fame career and likely contributed to his death at 62, his personality was powerful enough that so many of the memories of Marvin are positive or wacky or unbelievable. This is a guy who refused to board plane changing time zones because “I ain’t getting on no time machine.”

If he came along today, Barnes would be a mainstay on TMZ for all the wrong reasons. He’d put JR Smith’s and Ricky Davis’s off-court existences to shame and the truth is that he was likely so coked up, he’d be posing for photos and be featured all over random Instagram accounts in NBA cities across the country. If Barnes’s life off the court was wild and crazy by the freewheeling standards of the 70s and 80s, it would’ve been unsustainable in David Stern’s NBA.

His career was neither good nor bad, but marked by extremes. Bill Reynolds of the Providence Journal, a writer who covered Barnes for decades described his personality as: “one part Muhammad Ali, one part street poet, and on part stand-up comic, all without a filter.” He was colorful, naturally a gregarious man always in the middle of something, but the same drug use that put a hard ceiling on his basketball career was a source for so many of the stories that accompany any reference to Barnes. He was the rare player who had the audacity to pull this off (h/t to Matt Bonesteel of the Washington Post’s Early Lead blog):

After a particularly wild night in New York, he slept in and missed every flight to Norfolk, where the Spirits were playing the Virginia Squires at Scope.

Barnes chartered his own plane and arrived at Scope just before the game, a woman on each arm – his companions from the previous evening – and a bag of McDonald’s burgers in his hand. He opened his full-length mink coat to reveal his Spirits’ uniform.

“Boys,” he said. “Game Time is on time!”

Benched for the first quarter, Barnes finished with 43 points and 19 rebounds.

He was quintessentially FreeDarko and inspired this description from Bethlehem Shoals:

Lots of you have read Loose Balls, so you know the stories. But Barnes was like (Roy) Tarpley times ten million, and with a swagger that 1980′s degeneracy was sorely lacking. While I’ve never seen clips of him, I get the sense that he was a power forward who could drop 50 on anyone while nodding off on the bench, then charm everyone, then pop back in and score 30 more once the game had already ended. Barnes also set the tone for those Spirits of St. Louis lovingly memorialized in multimedia, grab-bag fashion by Remember the ABA and this dude.

The previously-linked piece from Matt Bonesteel contains nothing but great stories about Barnes. And even Reynolds’s piece which is tinged with wistfulness is full of anecdotes that don’t fly in the current climate.

Reynolds mentions Barnes’s penchant for embellishment and maybe a lot of the old stories are exaggerations and variations of truths long forgotten or never lived. Whatever the facts, aside from a few old photos, arrest records, and these ephemeral memories of Barnes, the lack of a definitive recounting of Marvin Barnes’s life on and off the court is part of the romantic mythology that we wrap around athletes and which is slowly receding out of our reach because everything is documented or recorded or verified. Marvin Barnes is gone at the young age of 62 and for better or worse, we’ll never see another like him.

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The NBA is Dooming Itself to Mediocrity

A different week, an entirely different picture of the NBA’s ongoing media rights negotiations. Last week I wrote about a report from The Big Lead, which indicated that Fox Sports 1 would broadcast games under the new contract. But we have a new conflicting account, this one from SportsBusiness Journal, that asserts that very little will change, with TNT and ESPN being retained as the only broadcasters of NBA games. But before getting into SportsBusiness Journal’s report, we need to talk about how the media gathers information.

There’s no getting around it: either The Big Lead or SportsBusiness Journal screwed up their reporting. The Big Lead used the word “when”—as if it is an assured eventuality—to refer to Fox Sports 1 signing a media rights deal with the NBA, whereas SportsBusiness Journal says that there is “little chance” the NBA will expand the media rights deal beyond TNT and ESPN.

If The Big Lead is being played, it’s most likely by the Fox Sports and the NBA. Fox Sports wants to grow support for the idea of a third media rights package, and one way to do that is by creating the presumption that they are getting it. Failing that, both the NBA and Fox Sports would like to drive the price TNT and ESPN have to pay for the rights higher. If SportsBusiness Journal is getting played, it is most likely by ESPN and TNT. If they can convince Fox Sports that there is no point in even playing and drop out of the bidding, they can potentially pay a lot less for the media rights contract. It could also be the work of the NBA, sending a signal to Fox Sports that ESPN and TNT are willing to back up the Brinks truck, and they better do so too.

If we take the new SportsBusiness Journal’s report at face value and assume it is right, it’s a disaster for the future of the NBA. From my reading, almost nothing will change under the new media rights deal.

“there is little chance the NBA will carve out a third package for another network”

While involving a new partner constitutes a risk, it is something the league needs to heavily consider. The audiences for every TV network are different, so it is an opportunity to tap into a new segment of the market. More importantly, a new rights partner brings fresh eyes to league coverage. I’m a big fan of how TNT broadcasts NBA games, and to a lesser extent ESPN, but who knows what ideas Fox Sports, NBC or some other organization has? Sewing up this deal while TNT and ESPN have exclusive negotiating rights, before talking to outside broadcasters, is a mistake.

“The NBA wants to explore the NFL’s model, where streaming rights are sold separately. The NFL sold streaming rights to Verizon as part of a four-year, $1 billion deal that runs through the 2017 season. ESPN and Turner are balking at such a plan, saying that they need streaming rights to the games they produce.”

As an increasing percentage of “television” is viewed online, streaming rights are becoming proportionately more important. ESPN and TNT would like the status quo to prevail. Currently they control how NBA fans can stream games, usually by signing agreements with cable companies like Comcast and Time Warner to let people who pay for a cable package with ESPN and TNT to access some of that content online. It means the only people that can stream online are those that could already watch on their TV.

When the NFL’s media rights came up for renewal a few years back, they did something very smart. They kept Fox, CBS, NBC and ESPN aboard, but sold streaming rights to Verizon Wireless. Verizon then sells “Verizon Wireless More Everything,” which is a cell phone data package that Verizon Wireless customers can pay for. Even if you don’t pay for cable or have a television, if you are a Verizon Wireless customer, you can stream almost every NFL game. It’s a way of reaching a different demographic of fans than currently watch games on television.

That last point is especially important given the long term trends. The vast majority of NFL games are shown on over-the-air television—meaning you don’t have to pay for them—but almost all NBA games are on cable. Considering only 68% of Americans have cable (according to Gallup), that’s a full 32% of the country that basically cannot be NBA fans. But it gets even worse when you dig into the particulars. Only 62% of those 18 to 29 have cable, signaling a long term trend where fewer and fewer people can watch the NBA. According to that same survey, 73% of people have wireless internet, and among 18 to 29 year olds 83% do. Eighty-eight percent of 18 to 29 year olds have a smartphone.

American consumers are moving away from watching video on their TV, and watching more of it on their computer, phone, or Roku/Apple TV/Xbox. There has been talk over the years of a non-traditional rights partner like Google or Netflix buying live sports streaming rights. Netflix is starting down that path by producing original television shows, and YouTube has also streamed live events like the Copa America, Wimbeldon and Cricket. Whether it is a cell phone service provider or an online content company, the NBA could do a lot of creative things with streaming rights.

But no, they’re just going to give them to ESPN and TNT to squander on people that already pay for cable.

“Turner also will continue to manage the NBA’s digital assets, which include NBA TV, NBA League Pass and NBA.com.”

The fact that the NBA outsources its digital assets is a complete and utter joke. Maybe this made sense in 2000, but it makes absolutely none in 2014. It’s not like the NBA is outsourcing a call center or something, it’s the NBA’s website, TV channel and premier subscriber product! Major League Baseball’s digital capabilities are so advanced that it has created an arm called Major League Baseball Advanced Media. It runs the league and all thirty teams’ websites, as well as MLB Radio. But it also has contracts with a variety of media organizations to handle their streaming video content: WatchESPN (ESPN’s hugely important streaming service), CBS’ March Madness streaming service, the WWE Network, the YES Network, SportsNet New York etc. It even runs the video content for The Blaze, Glenn Beck’s crazy politics website!

So while the NFL controls its digital rights, and Major League Baseball is so far ahead of the game that it does the streaming video for fucking ESPN, the NBA outsources its digital assets like they’re trying to save 5 cents on the manufacture of every widget. If Turner was doing an amazing job with the league’s digital assets that’d be one thing, but they’re not! NBA League Pass is an awful service that deserves every single piece of negative press that it gets, with an interface five years out of date and options that pale in comparison to the MLB’s streaming service.

In 2003, Major League Soccer signed a partnership with MLB Advanced Media to run its digital operation. In 2009 they brought it back in-house, understanding that for the long-term growth of the league, it was important to be fully in charge. Yet somehow five years later, the NBA is content to continue farming out one of the most important aspects of running a league.

***

No matter what happens, the NBA is going to get a boatload of money each year of its new rights deal. The media landscape is such that the importance of live sporting events has exploded in recent years, driving up their price to broadcasters. The biggest deals—the NFL, MLB, NHL, Pac-10, SEC, World Cup—are already sewn up, meaning the NBA’s deal (along with the Big-10’s, to a lesser extent) is the last time an important package will be up for bidding for half a decade. The NBA is growing in popularity, while baseball is stagnating and football faces severe long-term challenges.

All of the leverage belongs to the NBA, not ESPN, TNT or any other broadcasting network. They’re going to get $2 billion annually for the deal, and enormous increase over the $930 million it currently gets. Much more important than securing an extra $50 million or $100 million a year—which then has to be split 30 ways, making it a relatively trivial increase—is building a solid foundation for the long-term growth of the sport. This means making compelling basketball content easy to access online and on phones, owning digital assets to move quickly as thing shift, and targeting entirely pockets of the population where potential basketball fans live.

Instead, it seems that Adam Silver and NBA owners are content with the same ole same ole. Sure, by wrapping up negotiations quickly in order for ESPN and TNT to overpay, everybody will end up with slightly more guaranteed money. But the opportunity cost of such a choice is enormous, and the league is choosing incorrectly.

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Your Annotated Smartphone Bathroom Reader for Tuesday, September 9th, 2014.

Some late-morning reading all about a very bad week in professional sports.

Bruce Levenson Isn’t a Racist, He’s a Businessman
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Time

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has become something of a renaissance man when it comes to analysis of popular culture. This is unsurprising, given that he has experience as a professional athlete, coach, executive, movie star, and countless other positions in civil society. As such, he is qualified to comment on the rapidly developing situation in Atlanta, which he does in a piece for Time. Abdul-Jabbar’s analysis is rooted in parsing out whether or not the email itself was racist, and whether Levenson, by extension, should be exonerated from anything he wrote in regards to “diversifying” his customer base. For Abdul-Jabbar, the answer is an emphatic “no.” “He wasn’t valuing white fans over blacks,” writes Abdul-Jabbar, offering that instead “he was trying to figure out a way to change what he thought was the white perception in Atlanta so he could sell more tickets. That’s his job.” On a base level, this is correct: Levenson should be attempting to make his business more profitable, and for the former NBA great, that involves asking “cringe-worthy” questions. However, Abdul-Jabbar’s conclusion is where the argument becomes shaky, at least for this reader. He asks an interesting question: “If his arena was filled mostly with whites and he wanted to attract blacks, wouldn’t he be asking how they could de-emphasize white culture and bias toward white contestants and cheerleaders? Don’t you think every corporation in America that is trying to attract a more diverse customer base is discussing how to feature more blacks or Asians or Latinos in their TV ads?” That seems to be the larger question, especially as news about Danny Ferry continues to unfold: are these the fundamental questions those who want to accrue wealth should ask, or are they asked in order to maintain already existing structures? Either way, Kareem is worth reading, especially on this issue.

The Moral Arc of Pro Sports Bends Towards Profit
Jack Dickey
Time

In a variation of some of the same themes tackled in Abdul-Jabbar’s piece, Jack Dickey (also writing for Time) takes a different look at what sports fans are seeing in the headlines this week: the multiple forms of violence produced by capitalism the pursuit of profit, and what they all mean in a larger picture. To do so, he skillfully weaves both moralistic elements of the Ray Rice story and the Atlanta Hawks story to illustrate how sports, as he terms it, “arcs towards profit.” Dickey points out that the NFL — specifically commissioner Roger Goodell — are benefiting from the diligent work of image consultants to portray themselves as “strong leaders” when it comes to social issues, yet a dramatic disconnect remains, not just in terms of individual behavior, but also profit margins. Dickey wins major points by extending this analysis to the NBA, which is participating in the same problematic practices with none of the fiery critiques. “The NBA is winning praise (and facing no criticism) for fighting a tacit racism it funded and nurtured less than a decade ago,” writes Dickey, referencing recent events with Donald Sterling and the NBA. “Writers are looking to an empty NFL suit to help solve a real crisis.” This state of affairs illustrates an ugly tension in modern, decadent American culture: that writers and fans demand change of all sorts, but are looking in completely the wrong places to find them.

Bruce Levenson, Donald Sterling, and our Figurehead Problem
Evans Clinchy
Hardwood Paroxysm

In this take on the Hawks situation — and the “pursuit of profit” theme that seems to be front-and-center in this first-wave of analysis — Evans Clinchy takes an original approach, and looks at the role our glorification of “figureheads” in this mess. Like others, Clinchy looks closely at the email Levenson sent, and chooses to privilege “intent” over discourse. In his analysis, he asks important questions about Levenson’s postulations, and asks whether we might look beyond the individual, and focus on the larger structural issues that compel Levenson to make problematic observations. “Is that racism, or is that just good business sense?” writes Clinchy, before concluding somewhat open-ended-ly that “there’s a fine line, and the immorality of treading such a line falls to the wayside in the pursuit of profit.” While I agree that there should be room for nuance in every analysis — and Clinchy certainly is nuanced as he lays out a compelling and well-constructed argument to focus on aspects besides the racist himself — we should beware apologizing for racism in the name of perpetuating the worst parts of capitalism.

The Sterling Shuffle: Unpacking White Jewish Racism
Sikivu Hutchinson
LA Progressive

(Editor’s Note: This annotation originally appeared in the May 5, 2014 edition of the ASBR). When Donald Sterling’s comments were released to the public, many shrugged their shoulders, mostly because both the racist, and his racism, have been around since time immemorial. The goal of the analyst, then, was to illustrate an aspect of his comments that might be surprising to even the most jaded readers. Sikivu Hutchinson shows the reader how Sterling’s comments are informed by a tradition of racism developed by Jews who, like blacks, have fought to be viewed as “Americans” in the United States of America. Hutchinson explains that most Jews did this by emphasizing their whiteness, usually through de facto racist practices against other non-whites. As such, an ugly history of segregation, and an ugly language of racism, have emerged over the years. Moreover, Hutchinson points out this historical tradition has evolved into an anti-black/African bent in Israeli nationalist politics and discourse. This is an excellent contextualization of Sterling; one that was far different than the others.

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Forging a New Bust

America’s sultry love affair with Anthony Randolph roughly coincided with its equally passionate love affair with Dubstep, both arriving front-and-center in 2009, as the horrors of the Bush years finally began to fade, and the new horrors of the Obama years began to make themselves known. In many ways, it was a fitting soundtrack for Randolph, as the two seemed to be kindred spirits; it’s discordant clanks and skittish screeches balanced by steady percussion and melodic overtures, as Randolph’s career proceeded along at roughly the same cadence. It would be during the bass drops — deep dives into the darkest depths of a song, where your ears open up and your body runneths over with the sheer power of noise — that you’d lose yourself in the dream. For Randolph, those drops would come in the form of brawny athleticism few had seen the likes of; dunks and alley-oops that would put the game on ice for a few minutes, and blocks that sent orange orbs screeching into the stands, at least temporarily diverted from their intended destinations. In both mediums, there was something new and different, a unique way at looking at a well-worn trope, and the distinct possibility for something original to last; to change the game in a permanently positive way.

However, most of us know that originality is as fickle as it is farcical — everything is an imitation of something or someone that preceded it — and in a vicious recalculation of the time-honored equation, Randolph’s basketball life imitated the tempestuous nature of art. The dunks, blocks and rebounds that seemed to distinguish him from his other positional peers (though it was always difficult to tell which position Randolph was playing, and which position he was meant to play in the NBA) slowly faded into the background as other more pressing professional tasks went unfinished, and necessary development went unmet. The alley oops were great, but the simple defensive rotations were absent. The blocks were cool, but there seemed to be a legitimate barrier between him and a fundamental understanding of where he was meant to be on the court. And his frustrating lack of health, an inability to stay on the court, stymied good will, despite forceful attempts to look past the inconsistency. Yes, it is a low blow to blame someone for repeatedly spraining their own ankles. Yes, it is a despicable to be a punching-bag for a burnt-out, alcoholic coach during your rookie year. But there is little room for a long view in the NBA, for participants and consumers alike. Before long, all that was predictable had occurred, and most had moved on. We can almost see it now, in our overactive mind’s eye: a faux dubstep beat, developed by an ad agency in an effort to sell yogurt in a tube to a hipper, younger generation, churns along like dramatic yawns after lunch, while we sit, blink, and watch Randolph sit, blink, and rot slowly on the vine. This is the death of art. This is the end of Anthony Randolph, at least as we know him, and loved him.

The players we refer to as “busts” — a blanket term referring to those who failed to live up to the lofty expectations others set up for them, or who fail to evolve into the players experts were sure would emerge after a few years of transformation –often times serve as time capsules for eras that have closed the doors on themselves, or crushed themselves under the weight of our own staggering prognostications. A disco ball shines brightly on the afro’d head of LaRue Martin, a steady rhythm guitar providing a soundtrack to a player and genre in continual decline, until both are absent from the picture. Strangely suspended Orbitz drinks and monotonous alt-rock stand proudly by the mid-1990′s dream of The Kandiman, the unknown seven-foot prospect from the University of Pacific who indeed was too good — or, too bad — to be true. The antiquated sounds of Jermaine Dupri and Chingy sound like dulcet tones while we watch turn-of-the-century clips of Tracy McGrady making the league look stupid with seamless, almost liquid movements to the hoop, yet sound like gramophone music once McGrady’s career finally took its final, bleak shape. In those moments, these players become something different; a representation of the things that used to make us smile, until we realized that they — or, “it” –were never going to be enough, and that a rearticulation of what could’ve been pales in comparison to what actually came about.

It is possible that Randolph, who has taken his sad eyes, disappointing career averages with four different teams, and yet-unformed skillset to Lokomotiv Kuban, will re-emerge, and make himself noticeable again. He would not be the first person, place or thing to come back from the Great Beyond refreshed, renewed and rejuvenated. Gerald Green’s original form — a failed lottery pick, high-flier with no skills, a bona fide “bust” — was not sufficient for consistent NBA production. His transformation into a serviceable two-way player, who could slash to the hoop as well as drain corner threes, happened long after he was deemed a bust, and banished overseas. For Green, the transmogrification was absolute; tangible even from our privileged positions on the couch. No longer focused on proving who he wasn’t, but rather, who he was, Green was finally released; finally ready for originality. For Randolph, the goal seems to be to figure out who, exactly, he is, at least on a basketball court. One gets the suspicion that once he discovers that innate thread within himself, everything will be fine, and he’ll get going with what he was supposed to be doing from the very start. It might not look like what we expected — those dunks, those blocks, those rebounds; they still delight the mind — but it will be his very own, and ours to fully, totally and unabashedly enjoy.

The chance remains that Anthony Randolph has played his final game in an NBA uniform. It’s possible we’ve called him a bust to his face for the last time, a tired epithet that is as vague as it is vicious. But if that’s the case, it means that he finally made it work for himself; finally found a place he was comfortable, and able to contribute. If that occurs, we will have only one recourse: to congratulate the man, watch what he has become, and postulate if, or how, he could reintroduce himself into our hearts and minds, reformed and revamped into a completely different specimen altogher. Then, and only then, can we return to YouTube clips from 2009, to watch those brilliant dunks, blocks and rebounds which had us so excited about the future, as an industrial dubstep beat plods along happily in the background. 

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The NBA’s Enormous Opportunity

The next two years will define the NBA’s path forward for the next decade. Baseball is in such a poor state that it has people writing articles with titles like The Twilight of Baseball and What’s Wrong With Baseball?; football faces long-terms problems regarding its safety (or lack thereof), not to mention near daily scandals regarding domestic abuse and drug use; hockey is hockey. The NBA has an opportunity to establish itself as the second most popular sport in the country, with the ability to make a serious dent in the NFL’s popularity.

After the 2015-16 season, the NBA’s current national television rights deal expires. Back in May, Jason McIntyre—who has covered the negotiations over a new deal more closely than anybody—reported that Fox Sports 1 was likely to be a part of the new contract, broadcasting on Saturday nights. But in a surprising piece he wrote yesterday, McIntyre revealed that Fox Sports 1 was more likely to broadcast games on Monday nights after the football season ends, to avoid going up against the phenomenally popular Monday Night Football.

Even more interesting was the language McIntyre used to describe the likelihood that Fox Sports 1 reaches an agreement with the NBA: “…when the NBA signs a new deal with Fox Sports 1…” Apparently it is not an “if” or a “probably”, but a certainty that Fox Sports 1 will be a part of the new package, bringing up a number of interesting questions.

How many games will be broadcast nationally during the 2016-17 season?

The current national TV deal—signed in 2007—has 152 games broadcast nationally, 100 on ESPN/ABC and 52 on TNT. If Fox Sports 1 were to broadcast two games each Monday starting in January, it would get a package of roughly 30 games. But there are a number of problems with just adding national games. At some point you run out of good games with good players that fans want to watch, but more importantly, I suspect that the regional sports networks would throw a fit. Altitude Sports, the Denver Nuggets RSN, doesn’t want to broadcast against a tantalizing Thunder-Clippers match-up on Fox Sports 1. A more likely scenario is that either ESPN or TNT (likely ESPN) will broadcast fewer games, an arrangement ESPN certainly wouldn’t be happy with.

How will Monday nights be scheduled?

According to McIntyre’s reporting, the NBA and Fox Sports 1 both want a “Monday Night Football-type atmosphere for the NBA”. That atmosphere is created because Monday Night Football is the only game on. Presumably Fox Sports 1 would want there to be just two games on Mondays, both of which it is broadcasting; just like TNT has on Thursday nights. This also avoids angering the RSNs.

The problem is that if there are only two games on Monday nights, there is an incredible schedule logjam. Both Mondays and Thursdays would have only two games, and the NBA usually likes having a light schedule on one of the weekend days. For a league that already has too many back-to-backs and long flights, not being able to schedule a full slate of games on Monday exacerbates an already acute problem. It just isn’t possible to cultivate a Monday Night Football-type atmosphere and keep the schedule largely the same.

Does adding Fox Sports induce too much schedule confusion?

By opening up a package of games on Fox Sports 1, the NBA risks further bewildering viewers. The NFL and MLB have enormous scheduling advantages over the NBA: your favorite football team always plays on Sundays and your favorite baseball team plays every day. But when does your favorite basketball team play? Sometimes they have two games a week and sometimes they have five, and there is seemingly no pattern as to which nights of the week they’re on.

Involving another rights partner confuses things even further. The new national schedule would be:

Monday: Fox Sports 1
Tuesday: TNT (last 6ish weeks of the season)
Wednesday: ESPN
Thursday: TNT
Friday: ESPN
Saturday: No national game
Sunday: ABC

There is no doubt that adding a third rights partner is a windfall financially for the NBA, who would like to encourage as many networks as possible to put in bids for TV rights. But it is possible that the result might be lower ratings as fans watch something else because they don’t know where to find the game.

Is this the sign of something bigger?

During the lockout season of 2011-12, the abbreviated season started on Christmas before ending at roughly the normal date. Many fans liked having more games packed into a shorter timeframe, and it felt like the league gained real momentum from beginning the season with a strong slate of Christmas Day games. Christmas has become increasingly important to the NBA, becoming as associated with basketball as Thanksgiving is with football.

Beginning Fox Sports 1’s package of games after Christmas Day (the final Monday Night Football game of the season is usually the week of Christmas) further solidifies Christmas as the “real” start of the season. I’ve long thought that the NBA either needed to compete head-to-head directly with the NFL or get out of the competition altogether, and a Monday night package feels like the NBA making its choice. I highly doubt the NBA is going to make major schedule modifications (though it should either start the season on Christmas Day or shorten it by 10 to 20 games), but it might continue the trend of backloading important things to begin after Christmas.

***

The new national TV deal will be the NBA’s biggest story until it either signs the deal or another owner is taped going off on a racist tirade. While football is weakening and baseball losing traction, an expertly crafted media rights deal is the biggest arrow the NBA has in its quiver. As an obvious fan of the sport, I hope it doesn’t miss.

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Your Annotated Smartphone Bathroom Reader for Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014.

We know: the offseason is boring. These pieces are great, though.

Their Dinner with Andray
Rafe Bartholomew
Grantland

Nearly every aspect of the FIBA World Cup has been incredibly entertaining, but besides the Team USA, few players and teams have gotten more attention than Andray Blatche and the Filipino national team. Their helter-skelter style of play, with a heavy dose of Blatchery, has made them must-watch basketball in this excellent tournament. But how did it happen? Rafe Bartholomew, perhaps the world’s foremost authority on basketball in the Philippines, has all the details in this excellent piece on Grantland. Bartholomew provides the reader with a tidy history of international competition in the Philippines, and how the tiny former American colony managed to secure the services of everyone’s favorite lazy rubber man, Andray Blatche. What emerges is a highly entertaining tale, told beautifully by Bartholomew, who weaves together Filipino, American and international narratives of basketball effortlessly. This piece is definitely worth a read or two.

TBT: Alonzo Mourning
Kris Fenrich
Hardwood Paroxysm

As I have gotten to know him better, I have realized that Kris Fenrich’s memory is a beautiful thing; a vessel which contains snippets of NBA basketball that I long forgot, or failed to realize their importance. No more strongly does this come through than in this piece for HP’s “TBT” series, describing a small moment in time in the early career of former big man Alonzo Mourning. While the snippet Fenrich analyzes fits nicely into a larger corpus of rim-rocking dunks, his contextualization distinguishes it; an important moment in the decline of one of the greatest cores ever (the 1980s Celtics, gasping their last breaths in 1993) and the rise of the greatest team that never was (the mid 1990s Charlotte Hornets). Fenrich writes in a way that delights older readers, hooks younger readers, and takes us all back to a time when pinstripes were fashionable, and the end of greatness seemed like an opening point for a rawer, more exciting form of talent.

Thad Young’s Exit from Philly Closes the Book on the Doug Collins Era
Ben Detrick
Grantland

Though the focus of the Kevin Love trade was #1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, another above-average player moved to the 612 as well: Thaddeus “Thad” Young, who up until the moment of transaction, had played his entire career in Philadelphia with the 76ers. If Ben Detrick wasn’t here to take note, the moment might’ve passed like a fruit bat, whizzing harmlessly through the night. Instead, Detrick provides the reader with a nice encapsulation about what the transaction means, not just for Young, but for the Sixers and their attempt to build a championship contender under Doug Collins. The info here is good; useful for future reference, and easily deployable as a general history of the Sixers from 2010 to the present. But it’s the writing here that’s sizzling. I have always liked the way Detrick writes about basketball, calling players like Nikola Pekovic a “glacial strongman”, and writing that a Wolves team build around “Young, Ricky Rubio, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach LaVine should at least be enjoyably phantasmagoric in transition.” This piece provides useful information, and basketball scribing that is pleasing to both the eyes and ears.

An Increased Offensive Role for Andrew Bogut is Essential
Drew Kells
Warriorsworld

There were times last season where I’d look at Andrew Bogut — the imposing pivot of my favorite team, the Golden State Warriors — and be so perplexed by what I was seeing. On the one hand, his defense was transcendent; nothing less than transformative for a team that had long been lambasted for its lack of defensive prowess. On the other hand, his offense was inexcusably poor; though his FG% was among the league leaders, his touches were nearly non-existent, and often times he was relegated to “very highly paid screen setter.” Turns out the eye test was correct: Bogut was excellent on defense, but very bad on offense. According to Drew Kells of Warriorsworld, this was an issue with Mark Jackson and his game plan, and that under the Steve Kerr administration, this might change drastically. Kells provides some informed commentary on what might change for Bogut under his new coach, including sets from the triangle, and opportunities to join the “two-way” club of which his teammates like Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson are members. I really liked this piece, and hope Kells analysis holds water next season in the cutthroat Western conference.

The Next NBA Labor War is Already Here
Howard Megdal
VICE

First, the good: this is a stellar piece. Howard Megdal provides some real reporting here, on how the gruesome injury to Paul George has reframed the discussion on participating for the national team, specifically for the owners who claim some sense of control over the players due to the salaries they pay them. Megdal does deep research into how professional sports operates in the free market, where “max contracts” become constructs related to the structures that maintain them. Additionally, he talks to the players themselves, and gets them to be honest about their desire to play, despite the risks that present themselves. All of these are smart, necessary moves in the piece. But there is a side I continue to take exception to: the argument that these players aren’t really “free”; that they are, in some way, indentured servants to a cruel master, conjuring images of a slave-holding past. While I am sympathetic to any labor struggle, too often does professional sports labor issues get grouped in with larger labor struggles for workers making literal pennies for hours of labor. Simply put, it is not the same. While this piece drifts into that language with great frequency, the overall message of the piece — that rich owners unduly manage the movements and motivations of the players who make them rich — is what’s most important here.

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Punishing Drake and Forging New Frontiers in the NBA’s Culture Wars.

It’s a snoozer of a headline, and one that would only make noise in the dead middle of the offseason: that the NBA had fined Drake — yes, that Drake — for tampering. The events that transpired contain all of the markers of offseason non-news: a tongue-in-cheek recruitment attempt by Drake, performing at a concert in Toronto, for Kevin Durant, who was attending the concert for leisure, to play for his hometown team the Toronto Raptors, that met the ire of the NBA. The NBA leveled a $25,000 fine against the team, which employs Drake (without salary) as a “global ambassador”, but offered a strange out (which they have since denied ever making): remove Drake’s very ambiguous title, and the fine would be waived. The Raptors put their foot down, refused to defrock their highly-visible brand ambassador, paid the fine, and moved on with their respective days. And with that complete, there might not be anything new here to consider. Surely there are bigger NBA stories, and bigger world news stories, to focus on besides the NBA’s grumblings about recruiting players under contract, given that a clear definition of tampering hasn’t really been parsed out since LeBron left the Cavaliers for the Heat in 2010 under questionable circumstances. Discussing anything else might distract us from larger points, should they even exist in this story.

Yet, there is something strangely compelling in this fight between the NBA — an entity whose primary function is to represent 29 other wealthy owners, who maintain the league’s franchises in various cities on the North American continent — and the Toronto Raptors, the lone international representative among the greater gaggle of teams. It is a poorly kept secret that just a handful teams are tasked with carrying the NBA’s brand, using a combination of market size, on-court success and visibility, television market share, and historical presence to supersede the NBA as a corporate entity, and become bigger than the league as a whole. In this regard, the iconic “logo” featuring Jerry West, long employed to symbolize the NBA product, carries little weight unless there is a major team, or player, wearing an article of clothing or accessory with its red, white and blue insignia emblazoned on the front. However, while there is general agreement that major-market teams carry the weight for the others, there seems to be little agreement as to who, exactly, these major market teams are in the first place. Typically, the Celtics, Lakers, Knicks and Bulls are the first four out of the gate. But who else joins them, if anyone? The Heat, who boast stars, championships, and national television appearances? The Nets, who can trot out merchandise sales and television market worth? The Cavaliers, who feature two top-10 players and countless national television spots? Or even the “other” teams in Calfornia, the Clippers and Warriors, whose rivalry has been stoked by the arrival of bona fide stars, and the prospect of regular playoff meetings? There really is no clear definition as to what a major market team is, and by extension, how to become one.

As such, it’s hard not to look a bit askance at the NBA, and their attempt to put the Toronto Raptors back among the NBA’s untouchables, out of sight and out of mind. In the (stereotypical) lazy mind of the culturally-inept NBA fan from the lower 48, the Raptors have been a persona non grata ever since former All-Star swingman Vince Carter left for beautiful East Rutherford, New Jersey, leaving behind the closest thing the Raptors had had to “major market respectability” in their nearly 20-year history. In order to note the change in reception of the team, and the perception of their standing among other teams in the league, one would have to be playing very close attention. Kevin has already commented on the lack of national television exposure for the 47-35 squad, which finished with the 4th overall seed in the East, lost to the Nets in a memorable first round series this past spring, yet garnered zero national television appearances in the United States. Their talented team, headlined by guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, forward/center Jonas Valanciunas, and head coach Dwane Casey was lead by relative unknowns, at least to anyone besides the most fervent NBA fan or native Toronto resident. And despite recent returns to on-court respectability, they’ve failed to make the mark in less tangible ways, including changes to uniforms or team iconography, splashy free agent signings or trades (with the obvious exception of Rudy Gay), or clear responses to free agents lost to ther teams. Looking at a timeline of the Raptors since the early 2000′s produces a nauseous feeling; a middling team, struggling with obscurity and relative cultural isolation from the rest of the NBA world.

In these cases, the presence of a cultural icon — a celebrity, a politician, a socialite — can go a long way towards making a previously invisible team tangible, knowable and eventually beloved. If the market is made major by those who make the very entity more marketable, one can’t ignore the moment when a notable figure starts showing up at their team’s once uncool games, and becomes linked to the existence and relevance of the team altogether. Like Bruce Willis at Nets games in 2001 and 2002, Snoop Dogg and Jessica Alba at Warriors games in 2007, and even Barack Obama at Wizards games throughout his time as President of the goddamned United States of America, the presence of Drake provided the 2014 Raptors with a certain sense of insistent modernism, that this was what I was supposed to be watching if I wanted to keep up with the kids-these-days. Though I am no paying fan of his music — although as a black Jew myself, I have always felt a strange connection to the man — I cannot totally divorce myself from the churning waters of pop culture, and avoid being transfixed by the actions of the global superstar shouting at the referee on the sidelines. Though the possibility of Kevin Durant wearing Raptors red (or white, or black, or…camouflage?) seems unlikely, the idea that Drake could be enough to convince him to consider it is exciting, modern, and frankly, new. As much as it pains skeptical fans like myself, the presence of cultural icons in our beloved league are tantamount to its popularity, as well as its potential to grow in influence and stature over time.

From my perspective, the NBA has been content to anchor its marketing in the lower 48 as broadly as possible, trying to net as many interested eyes as possible to watch both their games, as well as the movies, television shows, sodas, cell phones, french fries and anti-itch creams who sponsor them. In order to do this, they draw from highly recognizable figures to push both products, and in theory, double the earnings. Often times these recognizable figures are the players themselves — that is, the vaunted superstars who both fill the stat sheet and sell cell phone plans — but other times they are actors, musicians, or anyone else who could potentially trend on Twitter. In this way, actors like Kevin Hart are propped to flourish as both the master of ceremonies for the All-Star game, as well as a box office darling, thanks to cross-marketing efforts from the NBA and the studios which produce his movies. In the cases of celebrities who choose to root for a specific team — the deranged stars who go to Knicks games, Jack Nicholson at a Lakers game, Jay-Z at whatever New York team he’s going for at that point in time, or even Billy Crystal at a Clippers game — the NBA seems to prefer that they remain seen but not heard, unless of course they’re willing to push the overall product. Team-specific marketing is frowned upon; silently discouraged and publicly reprimanded. For the NBA, there seems to be no room for anything besides the company line when it comes to global ambassadorship: recognition for all, and visibility for the very few.

The NBA’s ongoing battle with the Raptors, as well as their well-known global ambassador, seems to mark a new chapter in a larger war that will likely climax following the completion of the sport’s two impending cataclysms: the new television deal in 2016, and the (probable) new collective bargaining agreement in 2017. What will emerge from these two contentious negotiations — among many other things — will be a redefining of who deserves to be seen on the sport’s brightest stages, as well as the means they can employ to fight their way into that spotlight, whether they deserve to be there or not. The main players in these fights — the league, the teams, and the players — will all have different ideas about what they should be allowed to do as a way to gain a competitive advantage over their rivals. In this regard, it is interesting to look at the new NBA’s culture wars, and who they deem to be friends and foes, all in an effort to be noticed more than the person sitting next to them.

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