Wednesday, June 16, 2010

How The Lakers-Celtics Rivalry Financially Revived The NBA

How The Lakers-Celtics Rivalry Financially Revived The NBA

June 15, 2010 03:50 AM
The NBA finals are not what you think. You see, you’re watching the finals hoping that either the Lakers or the Celtics win, and wondering whether Kobe Bryant can outscore Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and the army of tall brothers that Boston is flying across the country to conquer Los Angeles. That is not, my friends, the first thing on the mind NBA Commissioner David Stern.

First of all, Stern is wondering why LeBron James isn’t here. Most of us expected, to the disdain of every other talented player in the league, that this would be the year that LeBron would take his rightful place on the Post-Jordan throne. The natural and inevitable coronation of King James was part of the NBA marketing strategy, thus allowing Stern and company to make even bigger money in the Chinese market, where the fans want to see their All Stars become champions. As we all know, it didn’t happen.

The second thought on Stern’s very sharp mind is that the finals he got this year, a renewal of the historic rivalry between the LA Lakers and Boston Celtics, is just as good, or better than what he would have gotten had King James shown up to play. You see, there’s history here, and most of the relevant history isn’t about wins and losses on the court.

In the 1970s, the NBA was faced with tough financial times: Players were viewed as a bunch of big, black drug addicts, which is not exactly the kind of thing that white folks back then wanted to pay money to see. Then, along came Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Bird and Magic made for the perfect rivalry: the quiet, unassuming white guy against the proud and confident brother; the working class grunts of Boston against the flashy pretty boys of LA; East coast vs. West Coast, even before Biggie and Tupac. It was perfect.

Most of us know by now that this rivalry is what financially saved the NBA. By putting the white guy next to the black guy on brochures and television commercials, a country that was already divided by both race and class could fulfill its natural urge to cheer for the Great White Hope. This created the first “cha-chings” for the NBA and led to us having the league that we see today.

The present is different from the past in some ways, but similar in others. The NBA is once again faced with significant financial challenges, resulting from the impact that the recession has had on how entertainment dollars are spent. This may lead to a lockout in the near future, and has spurred questions about the NBA’s need for a recent $200 million loan.

At the same time, much has changed: The Lakers and Celtics are two of the most valuable franchises in the NBA, worth $607 million and $433 million respectively. Boston fans are no longer waiting for a Great White Hope, and have chosen to embrace a cadre of incredibly talented African American players. The current rivalry still has enough bitterness to be competitive, but not enough venom to be destructive. The NBA has come a long way, with Boston and LA being a critical part of that journey.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and the author of the new book 'Black American Money.' To have Dr. Boyce's commentary delivered to your e-mail, please click here.

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