Saving the NBA: WOULD more white stars get people interested again?

It’s no secret that basketball has experienced a severe decline in attendance in the last few years. Many experts have attributed this to the lack of diversity in the league.

And then came Larry Bird to say exactly what was on his mind.

The question isn’t whether or not he should or should not have said these things – the question is, was Larry right? Does a mostly minority-based league play in mostly white markets?

Moreover, if the answer is no, is this representative of a lesser form of racism?

I posted in this thread my take on the NBA and its current decline. If I may quote myself:

So what do you think? What, if anything, can be done to save the NBA?

It would be difficult to determine one reason why attendance has declined. There are probably several factors in play. Among them: And in no particular order,

Ticket prices and more TV

Trading fan favorites

Poor behavior on the part of players

Players don’t really play hard until play-offs start

It has become more star-based / entertainment with less teamwork, which I suppose could appeal to some but obviously not others. I think the game should be played as if it were truly team sport, not an individual showcase.

The athleticism makes the game unreal and sooooo offensive. I mean how do you guard someone that can go airborne at the freethrow line and slam the ball into the basket?

The last professional game I watched looked like a bunch of corporate executives sitting around chatting. The crowd was kind-of asleep. Of course this was a regular season game. I think the play-offs have more fans that are really in to the game.

They play too many games

I don’t think the ethnicity of the players is much of a factor, if at all.

I used to follow basketball, but no more.

I don’t mind superhuman players–I like having my jaw drop when I see humans fly; but I want to see ability more evenly distibuted amongst the players. "Shaq"ball is not a sport. Nor is "Jordan"ball. Those are freak shows. Unfortunately I also want to see my team win. I live in Denver.

Less “look at me” attitude from individual players would be a good thing. I know the Globe Trotters are theater, but something involving “look at us” team play would be more entertaining than a dunk fest. I think players should not be alowed to vocalize in a game, and any unsolicited comminication with officials should result in immediate ejection and suspension from the following game: Shut up and play ball.

There are a LOT of teams playing now it seems. Cutting back on the number of games per season would inject novelty into the sport. it would also foster harder play as team members would have time to heal up and rest between shows. Works for football fans. NOBODY would watch basketball in a blizzard, but just you try & call off a Bears game for weather!

Personally, I think race as F-all to do with my disinterest. I’d watch leprechauns play if they could play well as a team and wow me with strategy and well-drilled execution.

Interesting points from both of you.

Still, I’m not sure we can totally discount racial diversity from the list of factors. It’s no secret that Tiger Woods brought a lot of attention to golf, a sport that’s been predominantly white for decades – and the same goes for the Williams sisters in tennis. Dominant superstars of races not commonly associated with a sport helps bring in another demographic, which (at the end of the day) is good for everyone.

The closest thing the NBA has to a “great white hope” these days are Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzski, and neither of these guys are above B+ talent. Great players, but superstars? No.

After seeing the influx of interest around Yao Ming, it’s not hard to understand the league needs better diversity. I don’t think it has to be white, but it certainly has to be different than the young African-American males that are currently the league’s MVPs.


I blame the decline on the lack of competition recently. Things are only exciting and worth watching when there is a lot of competition.

Your average hoops fan, I gather, doesn’t care much about the race of the individual players, or else he/she would have given up the sport for hockey decades ago. I don’t think adding more whites (and hell, where are all of us Mexicans? We’re short, but we’re feisty, damnit) is going to be a miracle cure.

Put the teams in closer competition. How to do that, I dunno, I don’t follow basketball or sports in general. Salary caps? shrugs

Not an issue of race, for me; more that the game of basketball just isn’t very interesting from a strategic or tactical viewpoint. Specific to the pro game, I never have the feeling that anything in particular is at stake during the regular season, a condition I lay at the feet of the ridiculously overblown playoff format. Likewise, the incessant showboating, constant intrateam sniping among players, and apparent lack of interest in team play that I perceive in the pro game really turns me off as well; I suppose that’s gonna sound a like a backhanded way of injecting race into the equation, but I can’t help it. Thing is, I quite enjoy college hoops; just seems more energetic, innocent and fun, and the regular season (it seems to me at least) actually has some significance in determining playoff candidates.

Is there decreased diversity? I’ve not seen any statistics but with all the European players coming into the league I would guess that the Association is more diverse, more white, than it was ten or twenty years ago. Some hard data on the attendance decline would be useful as well.

There is no question that the NBA is mostly black. I haven’t seen any statistics on the “markets” that NBA teams play in. I suppose that prolly depends on how you define the term. As for the live audience, I’ve been to the Palace a few times and the crowd was hardly lily white. I wouldn’t say it equalled the demographics of Detriot but it didn’t represent Auburn Hills either.

You lost me. Why would you suspect racism if a mostly minority-based league were playing in mostly white markets?

I suppose interest is in the eye of the beholder. I am very interested in Allen Iverson… on the court that is. I don’t care what the hell he does in his own time. But when he has the ball he is the closest thing in sports to what Barry Sanders used to be. He will not just go by you but make you look foolish in the process over and over on Sportscenter. No one was more softspoken than Sanders but no one was more exciting when practicing his craft either. I like than Duncan and Yao are self-effacing. It’s a nice change of pace. But it’s also fun to watch the drama of Shaq manipulating the media, “Write what you see.”

I think you are right but not because of the size of the Twin Cities but because of the size of the minds of so many sports commentators. IOW- it matters less that Minnesota has a small market than that the “experts” are small-minded. The idea that stuff matters more if it happens in LA or NY is just arrogant nonsense. Sports gets more coverage in those towns and some just can’t tell the difference between perception and reality. Of course, perception often creates reality.

Um, save it from what?

I have no trouble believing this. Most people are fans of their local team and a lot of them get plenty of it on TV. And NBA tickets are very expensive compared to NFL and particularly MLB.

I guess. The NBA has a decent system for player retention though. Unlike the NFL where the salary cap makes it easier to retain your own free agents than it does to sign others. You have to have faith in your front office. Sometimes they will trade away a Stackhouse for some guy named Richard Hamilton and you get mad. But give the new guy(s) some time. Maybe the franchise knows what it is doing.

Again, compared to the NFL I think NBA players are well behaved. On the court that is. What they do off the court is none of your business. Unless it causes them to miss games that is.

This is like saying that mothers who push out a baby weighing less than ten pounds isn’t really in pain. The NBA is highest level of basketball in the world. A guy who doesn’t play hard every night won’t last long in this league no matter how talented they are. But there is hard and there is hard. Some teams ( I suppose the Jazz are the best example ) are known for playing hard every game. But that “hard” is compared to the effort of their fellow elite athletes. It’s all relative. To say that the league as a whole doesn’t play hard in the regular season begs the question of: compared to what? Compared to the playoffs when the stakes drive players to almost inhuman intensity? By that standard 99.9% of Americans have never worked a hard day in their lives.

And, of course, this is nothing new. Players always play harder when more is at stake. That hasn’t changed so it’s unlikely to be a reason for a change in attendence. Unless, of course, it is driven by perception rather than reality.

Sports is entertainment. And recent rule changes are making teamwork more important. In the old days you could isolate a Stackhouse down on the block and let him have his way with the defender or draw a double-team. Now teams can zone him and Stack is a less effective player. You see less guards posting up now because of this. You still see teams run the 2-man game but usually when they only have 2 effective offensive players on the floor.

You trade Grant Hill for Ben Wallace. Seriously, not many guys have Jordanesque offensive skill. Teams might have a guy like that but not 2. So your whole team plays against them. If you are matched up on one you need to know that your teammates have your back. When the guy gets by you he should be met by another player, preferably a shotblocker.

Was it a Clippers game? I’ve never been to the Palace for the playoffs but every game we did see had the crowd rocking. Even when it was “Going to Work” with mediocre but hardworking guys.

Here I completely agree. Winning or losing a midseason game will never be as important as in the NFL where the season is only 16 games long.

I’m not so sure but the NBA has been dominated by African Americans for a long time. It’s difficult to credit the fact that this is leading to a downturn at this late date.

Back in their early 80’s heyday, the Celtics had Bird, Kite, McHale, Ainge, Wedman…quite a Caucasian crew, and stoppable only by the Lakers. The Larry Bird/Majic Johnson rivalry was legendary. Think Boston (one of the whitest cities of its size) didn’t eat that up?

er, Magic Johnson…sorry

Good god, I’m in my mid 20s, and that name still makes me giggle.

I’m sure there’s hard data to support or refute that, but I don’t have access to it. In any case, I agree with you. It might be too early to declare the NBA dead, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest they aren’t making as much money as they did during the Jordan era.

But, as you said, perception is reality. You mentioned that “what a player does off the court isn’t anyone’s business.” That’s true, but in many ways, what a player does off the court determines how willing we are to support their livelihoods. If there aren’t any heroes, there’s no reason to support your team.

So, how are heroes made? Not an easy question, but I suspect it’s a combination of how you perform on the court and how you conduct yourself off the court.

Upon re-reading my OP, I wanted to make something clear. When I said, “Does a mostly minority-based league play in mostly white markets?” I did not mean do they literally play. I mean, how does it play? Are white consumers staying away from the sport because of a lack of representation in the sport?

That answer would lead to, “Are you racist because you stay away from a sport because there’s no white people?”

Sorry if I was unclear initially. Bad wording.

In no particular order:

Shorten the season with more space between games.

Shorten and reduce the playoffs. It’s current format is ridculous with too many mediocre teams making the playoffs. It needs to be more like the NFL format with top team from each conference/division whatever.

Reduce personal fouls by 2, it’ll back the players off each other and encourage more strategic play, it would also improve teams overall as more players would have to come in off the bench.

Do something about the consiistency of the officiating crew. Maybe have an off fllor official who can make calls from the booth or something. I’m thinking of that obvious MJ push off a couple of years back. Not replay/review like in the NFL but just like a Supervisory official that came make calls the ones on the floor missed.

I could probably come up with more.

I think you would have a lot of evidence to present if you want to support that theory realistically.

So far, all you have is, “they’re doing worse when they had a/the legendary player fifteen years ago” - r is not approaching 1 with these statistics. O_o

Given the number of notches in that man’s bedpost, I’d say it was pretty magic.

Not magic enough, though… :frowning:

I want to make it clear that I don’t believe a person is racist for staying away from a sport where he/she is not well-represented.

But people exist that do believe this.

Still, I’m having trouble coming up with a term for someone that doesn’t want to watch a sport solely based of poor racial representation. “Ethnocentrism” seems too broad in this case.

The decline in interest coincides neatly with the increase in early entry into the NBA, which suggests a correlation.

In the old days, a player would stay in college four years. Fans got a chance to know him, and became fans.

Let’s say I’m a fan of good old State U. Our star player is Johnny Jumpshot. I follow his career at State U for four years, and become a huge fan. Anf for four years, Johnny Jumpshot builds his national name recognition as a college player. Appearances in the NCAA tournament, MVP awards, and All American Team membership all add to his name recognition and eventual marketability.

Now Johnny Jumpshot gets drafted by the Pacers. Maybe I’m not really a Pacers fan, but I’m such a fan of Johnny Jumpshot that when the Pacers come to town, I buy a ticket just to see Johnny play. As a result of drafting Johnny Jumpshot, the Pacers have established a base of fans outside their own geographic domain. State U fans all over the country turn out to see Johnny Jumpshot play. Even college basketball fans who are not State U fans are aware of Johnny Jumpshot as a result of all the accolades and TV exposure in college.


In today’s market, Johnny Jumpshot gets drafted as a little-known high school senior. He has no name recognition among fans, and unless he develops into a perennial all-star, he has no fan base outside his NBA team’s geographical market.

Additionally, Johnny Jumpshot, by foregoing college, has skipped 4 years of learning the game. He doesn’t know the fundamentals, and plays a sloppy, selfish game. The poor coach can’t get his attention because Johnny has millions in his bank account. Why should he listen to a coach who (given the turnover in the NBA) probably won’t even be around next year?

I don’t think the NBA appreciates the role of college basketball in building the name recognition and marketability of its stars, and in developing the fundamental basketball skills which used to make the NBA a beautiful thing to watch.

If the NBA continues to draft high school kids, it will continue its decline. By drafting them, it is killing college basketball and the pros as well. The NBA needs to get serious about this problem, and the Players’ Association, if it has any sense of self-preservation, needs to get on board.

I agree that the personal lives of players in the NBA is really none of my business. Unfortunately, these incidents are treated like they are in fact my business. I am more of a college basketball fan, but I can see myself less willing to shell out the cash for a tickets to watch a thug shoot three pointers or dunk. I think unfavorable media attention hurts ticket sales. You can’t deny that some of this bad publicity actually enhances the image among some fans. Maybe these fans are just not buying tickets.

Obviously, play-offs elevate the level of play. I don’t watch very often. I can only tell you what my perception is. They don’t seem to be interested in playing defense and they are sooo talented, it just looks effortless. I prefer the college game because it looks like they try harder. Perception, I know. But, maybe others have the same perception and this is why they don’t buy tickets.

You have made the comparison with the NFL. I wonder if the week- night games factor in. I mean, at this juncture in my life I do not have any desire to fight a parking lot full of people at 10:30 pm and then drive 12-30 miles out to my suburban home and then get up for work the next day. Since the NFL plays on Sundays, that favors the working class. Especially if you have afternoon games.

Oh and the game I watched was at the Compaq Center or I confess, it was The Summit then. :slight_smile: A friend of mine gave me a couple of tickets, decent seats. It looked like a very white-collar crowd. Maybe I was the one that was unenthused. Not that corporate executives don’t get excited about basketball.

I should have clarified, my “you” was a general “you”, not a specific “you”.

So far, no one seems to be supporting the hypothesis you (specific) presented in the OP that more whites would save the NBA, so we are having a somewhat one-sided debate here. My point is that there isn’t (to my knowledge) any current correlation between the popularity of the NBA and domination by black players (I would imagine that past correlations would be the NBA getting more popular as more black players joined).

In other words, if your (non-specific) catastrophic downfall of the NBA at the hands of blacks was reality, it would have happened, oh, 30 or so years ago, not now.

I dunno. Sports tend not to die a quick death. The fan-base erodes away after time, and fewer and fewer young fans jump on board to replace them. At the time 30 years ago, basketball still had heroes to root for – black, white, or otherwise.

I guess the debate comes with the right answer to the greater problem – will the next Great White Hope be enough to stop the hemorrhaging ticket and merchandising sales? Will it be enough to bring in new fans and new faces who would not have otherwise shown up at all?

It also raises another important question: How would a white Michael Jordan be received in the black community? It seems to me that a really great white player, while a boon for revenue and television ratings, might alienate the African-American fan-base. The perception will be, “They’re only pushing this kid on TV because he’s white!” Such a scenario has the potential to be very damaging to black perceptions of the league.

Or, if you prefer, we’ll call it the Eminem Syndrome. :slight_smile: White kid comes up, obviously skilled, but not the end-all, be-all. Media gets ahold of the white kid, because he looks the way they want him to look. All of a sudden, the white kid is The Biggest Star the Industry Has Ever Known.

I don’t want to say this is likely, but it’s certainly not impossible.

Here’s a cite from 2001 about attendance declines. I’m looking for more…