What do big-market NBA teams such as the Lakers and Knicks have in common with newspapers and network TV?
They all have suffered irreparable harm due to the Internet and cable TV.
There was a time when CBS, NBC and ABC virtually had the airwaves to themselves, exhibiting the same dominance that major newspapers enjoyed in various cities. Independent stations and smaller papers could only dream of breaking the big boys’ stranglehold.
But everything has changed. Broadcast networks and ink-on-paper news organizations are struggling to survive and thrive against a phalanx of competitors who previously didn’t exist or didn’t stand a chance.
And the ripples have lapped onto NBA shores, where Los Angles and New York no longer enjoy automatic cachet based on location, location, location.
LaMarcus Aldridge, the biggest prize on the free-agent market, canceled his meeting with the Knicks, ruling them out before they made their pitch. He took two meetings with the Lakers, giving them a do-over after the first one went horribly wrong, but he chose little ol’ San Antonio in the end.
Extenuating circumstances help explain Aldridge’s decision. The Spurs are a model franchise, winners of five titles in Aldridge’s lifetime and two during his career. They have one of the league’s best coaches and best general managers. Throw in the fact that Aldridge is a native Texan, and perhaps the odds were against L.A. and New York, anyway.
However, none of those factors exist in the case of Greg Monroe. The Louisiana native and former Georgetown star who has spent his entire career with Detroit, just spurned the Knicks and Lakers for … the Bucks.
Milwaukee is the country’s 35th-largest TV market. The Bucks shared (dis)honors with the 76ers and Magic for fewest nationally televised games last season, two apiece. Their one and only NBA championship was more than 40 years ago (1971), just like their only other appearance in the Finals (1974).
The Lakers have won more NBA titles than any team west of Boston, while the Knicks play in the nation’s media capital and so-called Mecca of basketball. But Monroe opted to ply his craft in the land of beer and brats instead of Hollywood or Gotham.
Ancient or not, history enjoys little currency in today’s wired culture.
The Lakers and Knicks must shoulder much of the blame for devolving into wretched franchises, each with an aging superstar and nothing else to offer. Neither team is close to being a contender and that can speak louder than marketing opportunities and hallowed traditions.
But there’s no denying that the Internet and cable TV have eaten into the built-in advantages of mega markets such as L.A. and New York. Players now realize that savvy management plus the right combination of teammates can spell outsized success anywhere.
Even outposts like Oklahoma City.
Kevin Durant has become a huge superstar in OKC, just the 45th-largest TV market. Running mate Russell Westbrook isn’t far behind. A ubiquitous pitchman, Durant earned $35 million in endorsements last season, according to The Oklahoman. Meanwhile, Westbrook has a fashion collection, a line of designer eyeglass frames and a cologne deal.
The duo, which ranked among the leaders in jersey sales last season (Durant was fourth and Westbrook was 12th), has transformed OKC into a leading NBA franchise. No team was slated for more national TV appearances last season.
And they’re not alone. The top-selling jerseys belong to superstars in small market on two of the league’s most popular teams – LeBron James/Cleveland and Stephen Curry/Golden State.
Given the same contract and same marketing possibilities, but with a significantly better chance of winning, it’s much easier nowadays for players to turn down bright lights and legacy franchises.
“Twenty years ago if Michael played in Portland instead of Chicago, maybe the Jordan thing wouldn’t be so big,” agent David Falk told ESPN. “Today, it doesn’t matter where LeBron plays.”
Between Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, blogs, microsites, podcasts, NBA TV and assorted 24/7 sports channels, superstars can drive their own branding and marketing. What they can’t do alone is create a winning environment, make sound draft picks, execute smart trades and sign the right free agents.
Team culture has overtaken whatever the metropolis offers. Besides, the latter is pretty much at a player’s fingertips, anyway, just a couple of clicks or channels away.
Frank Sinatra’s ode to life in the big city has been turned upside down:
Now, if players can “make it” elsewhere, there’s no need to “make it” there.