An important question with regards to the new CBA: does the truth matter?
Tim Donahue (no, not that guy), who has submitted a number of stellar posts full of new ideas regarding the CBA, penned another gem on that very subject today. More specifically, his well-articulated piece ponders why one side’s (the union’s) truth is (almost) universally accepted.
He has a point. Aside from the growing threat of a canceled NBA season, the toxic public posturing from both camps has unquestionably provided the most grief to the beleaguered NBA faithful. Yet fans have decidedly favored the players’ version of the conflict, though Mo Evans, Billy Hunter, et al haven’t been significantly more direct than their richer, less athletic counterparts.
But widespread displeasure with the NBA owners’ PR tactics, which border on outright lying, misses a fundamental reality: it’s in the NBA owners’ interest to lose the PR battle.
Everyone wins if NBA players continue to be loved.
Some people probably care about owners in that they are symbols of organizational competency and objectives, but the vast majority of NBA fans are fans of players. The degree of separation between NBA players and their fans is the lowest of any major sport. They can’t hide behind bulky pads or helmets or even pants or sleeves. We feel we know Kevin Durant in a way we’ll never feel about Adrian Peterson. The league has leveraged this unique intimacy by successfully marketing individual conflicts and personalities for the past twenty-five years.
Fans pay owners to see players, so owners have a financial stake in maintaining a positive perception of the players (hence the dress codes). It seems to me that the 1999 lockout hurt the public rep of the league not because there weren’t games, but because the players, as a whole, came out of the process looking greedy, spoiled, and kind of dumb.
Many of today’s NBA players seem to emerge from puberty with a better PR sensibility than Patrick Ewing could ever muster. Young guns like Derrick Rose, Durant and Blake Griffin seem tailor made for long careers as beloved, hardworking superstars. In addition, the off-season pro-am tours, social media and the democratization of access to NBA players has helped bulwark the majority of NBA stars from perception they are “out of touch.”
Meanwhile, Lakers fans could care less that their owner is a total creeper, and Blake Griffin’s nouveau Clippers supporters are only slightly perturbed that their entry fee funds to a person aptly described as “the worst.”
As a bereaved Sonics fan, my experience with owners has been troubled, to say the least. But my vitriolic feelings towards Clay Bennett won’t dissolve my abiding interest in the young, exciting team he owns.
But a league that’s perceived as thuggish and stocked with bad people isn’t good for anyone’s bank account. That’s why the NBA has avoided an outright campaign to brand the players as “greedy,” though the tactic might prove expedient.
I imagine that’s why Stern and the owners seem relatively uninterested in conquering public opinion. Not only is it a tough mountain to climb, the reward upon summiting is a devalued product.
The NBA’s company line will always be about the bottom line. If the owners come out of this looking like a bunch of rich punks, but they secure a revolutionary deal, that’d be just fine. After all, isn’t that what most paying fans think of them already?
Update: Howard Beck of the New York Times wrote a post this morning on essentially the same topic, with great quotes from Derek Fisher, David Falt, et al. Check it out.