I wanted to get into this issue last week, but instead, because of timeliness, I had to focus on MLB playoffs, but this is the issue I’ve been anticipating discussing.
There’s a real problem with the NBA.
News leaked on September 23rd that the NBA may authorize the use of nicknames on the jerseys of Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat players. That means bon voyage to LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, and a faux hello to King James, KG, The Truth, and Jesus Shuttlesworth.
Where some fans say that nicknames lighten the game and make regular season contests more enjoyable for the fans, the real meaning is that the NBA has furthered its individualism.
This move perpetuates that. It allows the star players to clown around, relishing their celebrity and receiving added bonuses while role players (who are often vastly underappreciated) have their part diminish. It increases the disparity between the top tier NBA players and the sixth men. What nicknames will Udonis Haslem, the defensive stopper for Miami, put on his jersey, or how about Reggie Evans, Brooklyn’s rebounding machine? These role players who contribute valuable minutes and assets to their team must think of some unrecognizable nickname so a few select players can have on the back of their jerseys, what their fans call them.
The game has since gone astray from the times when John Wooden and Dean Smith roamed the benches, building the team mentality that no one player is irreplaceable. This nickname jersey is an extension of individualistic principles. Yes Wooden coached players like Bill Walton, Lew Alcindor Jr., and Gail Goodrich, but none of those players was an egomaniacal, shot-heaving fiend. They were good at playing team basketball. Wooden even said if there was one thing he couldn’t stand it was one teammate criticizing another. That’s far from today’s standard. Basketball is still a team sport – LeBron couldn’t even beat Charlotte on his own.
On a lighter note, what if your nickname is ridiculous? Shooting Guard Joe Johnson, who plays for the Nets, is listed in the Basketball Nickname Index as “Armadillo Cowboy.” Really? That’s not going on my jersey. Another point about nicknames is that it politicizes the league. People like Shane Battier, who aren’t Superstars, want to wear a moniker that is copyrighted. Battier commented he’d like “Batman” but was quickly informed that Warner Bros. movie company holds the rights to the name. Therefore he’d have to settle with “Shaneo.” This move makes players with common nicknames, like Dwyane Wade’s “Spiderman,” liable to suits if they ever used a simple nickname. A nickname on their jerseys invites unneeded political drama into the locker room and league office.
From the NBA’s perspective this makes perfect sense and Adam Silver and David Stern are genius, frankly, for thinking of doing this. As the NBA has been able to capture a large percentage of the teenage/young-adult market with their vibrant colors and flashy gear, they’ve been able to introduce more and more variants of their product. Like a kid who would describe themselves as a “Sneaker Head” – a jersey addict needs to collect them all. The NBA now has an additional jersey to market and sell as you can have Christmas edition, home and away edition, retros, throwbacks, alternates, Latin American appreciation and now nickname jerseys!
The decision to do this also bolsters the continuance of the commercialization of the NBA. Akin to NASCARs with sponsorship decals stickered all over, or soccer players whose teams are owned by a company (ahem, New York Red Bulls), this decision further degrades the sport of basketball as it plunges deeper into profit-based thinking.
Profit is what the NBA already has with all the storylines entering this season. In the Eastern Conference: A possible Heat three-peat, the Brooklyn Nets with their young, maverick coach leading a group of veterans towards their last shot, and the Bulls return of their General in hopes he marches them to victory. The West: How the storied Los Angeles Lakers franchise will fare without their star, the Clippers’ Battle for LA with their new coach, and the Houston reloaded Rockets trying to claim the tough West crown. All those storylines are out there, waiting for an exciting NBA season to begin.
Nicknames are unnecessary as the Association will generate more than enough revenue with their fast-paced action and provocative storylines. The rule of demand however states that if you can make more profit without spending more, do it. NBA fans need to realize this is degrading the sport. Adding nicknames to the back of jerseys is superfluous and shallow. It’s commercialized, it’s individualistic, and it’s bad for the sport of basketball.