Friday, February 8, 2013

No Love for the Unknown Stars

Where's the love for Kenneth
Faried, Reggie?
As I was trying to enjoy the Nuggets’ blowout win against the Bulls on Thursday night, I found myself repeatedly frustrated by commentators Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller.  They continually gushed about the impending return of Derrick Rose for the Bulls, while their counter for the Nuggets was, “They have what they have.”  It was a constant reminder than no matter how good this team is the national media simply does not care about the Mile High crew.

The NBA is known as being a superstar friendly league.  LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant amongst others are obviously the names put on the marquee and rightfully so.  The large market teams regularly are the ones on ABC or ESPN.  The only time a team like the Nuggets get thrown a bone is when they are playing a team like Chicago or one of the LA teams.  Despite them being a team that has made a playoff appearance in nine consecutive seasons, the NBA simply does not show teams like this.  It’s always confused me.  Good basketball is good basketball, regardless of a big name or big market.

Two of the NBA's biggest stars:
LeBron James and Kevin Durant
So do team like the Nuggets need a superstar to get national attention or some love from the refs?  There are rumors of the Nuggets trying to make a run at Kevin Garnett before the trade deadline hits.  I can’t help but wonder why.  Why move young, talented pieces (Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler or Kenneth Faried) for an aged superstar?  Would that move make Denver an immediate title contender?  Absolutely not.  Garnett is in the twilight of his career.  He’s had an amazing career, but we’re a year or two away from a very noticeable decline in his game.  Sure he’s a marketable star, but Denver had that with Carmelo Anthony and didn’t win a title.  Heck, they only escaped the first round of the playoffs once.

The sad thing is that David Stern got drunk on big market/big names when the league was sputtering badly in the 70’s.  Next thing you know, Boston had Larry Bird and Los Angeles had Magic Johnson.  The next evolution was Michael Jordan in Chicago.  The NBA had three transcendent stars in three of their largest markets.  They never changed their focus after that.  McDonald’s, Gatorade, Adidas and other national sponsors flocked to these players.  While their skills and marketability were not questioned, there were other guys marketable that did not get the same attention.  The NBA wanted to focus on Bird, Johnson and Jordan.  Everyone else followed suit.

The aforementioned Garnett had his best individual seasons in Minnesota, but the stories from the NBA focused more on the Shaquille O’Neal led Lakers.  It proved to me that it doesn’t matter if you have a superstar, unless you’re in a market they’ve decided to focus on.  Look at the current playoff picture.  There are teams filled with players most casual fans haven’t heard of, but are some of the best in the league.  Indiana, Memphis, Denver, Golden State all have complete teams that are fun to watch.  They all have guys that could make a mark on the national stage, if only given the chance.
Kevin Garnett as league MVP

There has been a small shift, with the emergence of Oklahoma City.  They may be the test case for properly promoting in a small market.  The fact is winning attracts viewers.  Promote a winning team, whether they have a hyped name or not, and people will watch.  The small market is really a dead concept because the game is so available everywhere.  NBA League Pass has made every game available everywhere.  Why not rotate the national games to get exposure for other franchises?  That might also help prevent players bouncing to big markets in free agency.  They’ll already have their exposure, which helps their brand.

The one thing that needs to be learned is that if they promote stars in each market, they grow the game.  I haven’t met anyone who has watched Kenneth Faried play and not come away impressed.  He’s fun to watch.  Most teams have a guy or two that could be a “star” if promoted properly.

Why do certain players become superstars?  At the core, it will always be about their talent.  There has to be something else that pushes them to the next level, and that is where the NBA marketing team needs to step up.  We need to hear about and see more on players like Faried, David Lee, Marc Gasol and Paul George.  I know, in my heart, that if people watch these players once they’ll continue watching them after that.  Basketball fans, while loyal to their teams or players, love watching hoops.  Give us something good to watch and we’ll check it out.

Faried and the other 2013 Dunk
Contest participants
For those who think that big names mean wins and championships, I give you the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers.  Championships are not earned on paper, but on the court.  It would be nice if we would hear stories about teams playing well, instead of the drama between two “superstars” in a big market.  Then again, controversy generates interest and that’s why the Lakers will continue leading off SportsCenter despite putting out a poor product.

At least we get to see Kenneth Faried in the dunk contest over All-Star weekend.  Maybe, just maybe, his performance will wake some people up.  Regardless, I’ll continue to enjoy the fantastic on-court play of these teams so rarely mentioned.

Maybe one day others will join me.

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