The Throwback Story of Today’s NBA

Some nights I just wanna kick back and Netflix & Chill. G-rated style of course. Then I realize the NBA has a full slate of games on that same evening and figure the entertainment value is about the same, before and after games. Case in point below:

Former NBA player and current ESPN NBA analyst Jalen Rose brewed up controversy recently by suggesting that current NBA standout Joel Embiid was “unprofessional” when he responded to an interview after a game saying he was at a “69%” conditioning level. After getting wind of the well known Michigan Fab Five star’s comments, the often flamboyant, outspoken, social media legend Embiid fired back with “I’m now at 81%”, trolling Rose in epic fashion for being the main defensive victim in the now infamous Kobe Bryant 81 point game.

And just like that, on queue, I grab my popcorn, sit back and just watch.

The 2017 NBA season so far has provided night after night drama with limitless engaging storylines happening on and off the court, giving us sports fans the ‘throwback season’ that we’ve been waiting for since the death of league parity caused by players hooking up with their ‘friends’ in the era of the super-team. Renewed rivalries, more physical play, and intriguing personalities have brought a resurgence of sorts to the NBA and have fans acting like it’s 1995. Amazingly at the same time the NBA has found a way to continually be culturally relevant, growing in local and global popularity faster than its pro sport league counterparts, putting them all on notice that the NBA is once again the cool kid in class.

 

The NBA has found a way to continually be culturally relevant, growing in local and global popularity faster than its pro sport league counterparts.

 

The NBA just seems to get it. They rock the “it” factor. The Association, has managed to keep their pulse on current trends as it relates to their target audience, more specifically the younger generation. They’ve created an engaging culture, launching several social programs operating under their NBA Cares initiative, including NBA Green, NBA FIT, Hoops for Troops and more. Having players serve in various communities globally has made it far easier for the NBA to market their biggest stars, with the likes of King James and rising ones like Embiid.  

The numbers seem to agree. Earlier this season ESPN reported a 19% increase in ratings compared to last season, an increase of nearly a fifth of the total viewership the network had at that same point last season. While in comparison the 2017 NFL season has seen a decline in viewership in 7.5% from 2016 and 18.5% from 2015. While it’s debatable on what’s caused the NFL’s decline in popularity, what’s not up for debate is the NBA benefiting from a wild off-season, seeing several all-stars switch teams, creating unbelievably compelling storylines. The NBA also saw a jump in social media engagement for the 2017 Draft. According to MarketWatch.com, data from Adobe Digital Insights shows the 2017 NBA Draft garnered 5.6 million social-media mentions, about 11% more than the 2016 Draft.

While that last stat could be telling of how strong this year’s draft class is in marketability, only time will tell if they can actually play ball at a high level consistently. This is one of many scenarios we get to take part in night after night in the NBA, which is why an NFL guy like myself growing up will faithfully tune into TNT instead of the NFL Network.

While many have their own opinions on the NBA’s rise, there are a few reasons I personally feel why the NBA has taken over as the pro league of choice:

 

The Return of Rivalries

I don’t know who’s in charge of the PR in the NBA but it’s like overnight they went from marketing a league where everyone was someone’s homie, hugging and laughing before games singing “kumbaya”, some of the most salivating rivalries in NBA history. The season began with a great game between Lebron (Cavs) and his ‘son’ Kyrie (Celtics), but after last month’s game between the OKC Thunder and Golden State Warriors, the Westbrook vs. Durant rivalry is pretty much must see TV for the rest of the season. That said everyone hates the champs, so any game against the Warriors will be a scrappy one. What I’m saying is, rivalries are alive and well in the NBA and that’s a good thing.

 

Provocative Personalities

I could write another whole article on how Lonzo Ball and his father Lavar Ball have taken over the NBA as polarizing figures, garnering the attention of the media, current and former players, coaches, fans and anyone that’s ever dribbled a ball. Whether you love them or hate’em, it doesn’t matter. The NBA is still profiting off every incoherent word that comes out of Lavar Ball’s mouth. There’s a plethora of young stars ready to take the spotlight from Lebron, Durant and company, like ‘The Greek Freak’ power forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was recently in a shoe deal war between Adidas and Nike before electing to sign with Nike. Another is Embiid who I liken to this generation’s Charles Barkley for being a physical presence on the floor, having a solid all around game and isn’t shy about giving controversial sound bites. Trust me, Embiid’s Twitter game right now is straight fire!! And the NBA has benefitted from it.

 

The NBA is still profiting off every incoherent word that comes out of Lavar Ball’s mouth

 

Physical Play (Ol’Skool NBA Style)  

To suggest that the style of play in the NBA has been soft as butter the last decade would not be a stretch. But it’s changed recently and I’m not just referring to the new Nike jerseys ripping like cheap one ply toilet paper. Rough play and player scuffles are happening nightly. Promising Celtics free agent pick up Gordon Hayward gruesomely broke his ankle on opening night (no, he didn’t get crossed) and I still have visions of Draymond Green backing away with a half riper jersey (Nike….smh) after his fight with Bradley Beal. Fans have been waiting for this, and the league loves it, but there’s no chance they’ll admit it.

 

Team Parity. Well sort of.

Jimmy Butler to Minnesota. Chris Paul to Houston. Kyrie to Boston. Paul George and Carmelo to OKC. And just like that the NBA has given a master class in creating an image of what team parity could look like for sports. At the very least there’s more teams to follow this season than just the Cavs and Warriors who have played in 3 straight Finals.

 

Look, I grew up in the 90’s watching names like Ewing, Barkley and all the other members of the original 1992 US Olympic Dream team play in their primes, and then watching Jumpman himself dunk on all of them on his way to 6 titles in 8 years. I haven’t been this interested in the league since then. The NBA has caught lightning in a bottle. Now all that’s left is to keep it, harness it and reproduce it annually to stay sought after as the gold standard in running a pro sports league, this year and decades to come.

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