LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. They are on a different planet than Jimmy Butler, Isaiah Thomas, and Gordon Hayward. Or are they? The NBA has made a killing marketing above-average basketball players as perennial, brand name superstars in order to attract buzz to small market teams. The latter list does not comprise elite talent, but fans may never see that unless they have already bought into the product enough to see through the media exaggeration.
The NBA is the most marketable major American sport. Because only 5 players are on a court at a time, player recognition is far more prevalent than soccer and baseball. Because players don’t wear pads and helmets, superstars are visible and memorable. Though professional basketball is one of the least loved live sports in America, its media viewership is top of the charts next to football.
Marketing has created NBA critics into basketball fanatics. We no longer care if the players try hard through the regular season. As long as a game contains 5 superstars, its must-see TV. Though far fewer teams are televised, fans seem to move along to rooting for their “bandwagon team” without batting an eye.
As for me, I grew up rooting for Joe Johnson, Al Horford and the Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta has always been home and will always have a special place in my heart. But we don’t have a single superstar. Instead of complaining, I’ve conceded to the new basketball culture. So this year I say, “Let’s go Oklahoma City Thunder.”