This was an older article I wrote, but I thought it would work as a response to this post by our own KDillinger. This one is about the decline of interest in the NBA, it's long and it has nothing to do specifically with the Celtics, so you've been forewarned.
What happened to the NBA, and why does nobody care anymore? Sure, there are some relatively big markets, like San Antonio that don't have any other sports to care about, but most people couldn't tell you one player on their local NBA team's roster. What happened? Here's my theory.
Until as late as the late 80's, basketball was sort of like football and baseball, in that it was a working-man's sport. Guys like Larry Bird, Dr. J, Magic, Chris Mullens seemed to have a real work-ethic to which people could relate. Even more importantly, they were team-oriented players. Granted, they were fantastic individual players, but you really got the feeling of more importance being placed on winning than player statistics. Nowadays, that audience (the vast majority of the overall sports-watching demographic) can no longer relate to our NBA players. Some people think race might have something to do with it, and I think it does, but very indirectly, and it the following way. Most of the athletes in the NBA now are black, but there were plenty back in the day too. Our hero Red introduced the first all-black starting five way back in '64, and people still loved basketball. Where race comes in is in our culture. Most of the athletes now buy in completely to the modern gangsta-rap/hip-hop culture and this has turned off the older crowds completely. Let me pause here for a disclaimer.
I am not racist, nothing I'm saying is or will be racist. I am not saying hip-hop culture is bad, and I am not defending it either. I have no comment on either side of this. All I am saying is if you find the average 40-50 something who used to follow the NBA but doesn't now and play him some gangsta rap, he's going to call you a moron, or more-likely cause he's old, a knucklehead, for listening to it. This older demographic can not stand the elitism, showmanship, arrogance, and selfishness that is exhibited by our athletes which they have adopted from our new culture. The "grown-ups" hate the music, they hate the attitude, they hate the flare, they hate everything about it (and this is important) including those who subscribe to it. I would be willing to bet that many of our blue-collar countrymen would be embarrassed if their peers found out that they follow the NBA because it would show that they have not completely dismissed the modern youth culture. An entire demographic being afraid to follow a sport certainly does more damage to ratings than said demographic feeling sorta "meh" about it all. Granted, there are current NBA players that are more like the players or yore, but not enough of them to win the old NBA fans back.
Another major factor in the NBA's decline is their marketing strategies. I have no answers here because the guys trying to make the NBA popular again certainly have their work cut out for them, but I can see several problems. I'm sure they would like to win back their old audience, but that is basically impossible now. You would have to take away 1st amendment rights from most of the players, first off, then basically do what the MLB, NHL and NFL have done, and that is to carve out a niche with the older crowd.
Looking first at the NFL, one obvious contradiction to what I've said is apparent. The NFL has plenty of the type of players that are spoiling the NBA for our elders. Guys like T.O., Randy Moss, Ricky Williams, Warren Sapp are always hated by that crowd, but the NFL is still huge. Why? Things like excessive celebration penalties, fines for misconduct and mouthing off, and so on. Essentially, restricting 1st amendment rights. It also helps that football is the toughest, established American sport so regardless of the athletes, it will always draw in the macho crowd, which is basically... all men. Also, think of the advertising around the NFL. Ford trucks, light beer, power tools, and so on. Hmm... I wonder who they are going after.
The MLB doesn't have a lot of tough guys, no real physical contact (not like football anyway), is a lot slower of a game, but is still hugely successful. Baseball has almost none of the "turn-off athletes" that I mentioned, so that helps. Like football, It also plays the patriotism angle (america's past time, america's game, throw the ball around with the good old boys blah blah blah) which the old timers love. It also uses the same marketing strategy as football, marketing directly towards men. It may not be so focused in on tough-guy products, but it's all for grown-up men nonetheless. In this way, it attracts the adult males who consider themselves a little more sophisticated than the truck-drivin, bass-fishin, football fans, though there is a lot of overlap.
The NHL is also another example of tough guys watching tough guys kick ass. The fact that they are ice skating is ignored, because they are basically all badasses. No Stephon Marbury's or T.O.'s here. The marketing, pretty much the same as the NFL and MLB, it's just too bad for the NHL that the NFL has all their potential fans, but hey, it's OK NHL, there's still Canada.
And lastly, the NBA, which allows all sorts of shenanigans, employs all sorts of felons, and embraces this new culture that turns off the entire 35+ demographic. I don't know where their marketing guys studied, but whatever professor told them to target the young, broke, and just-out-of-college crowd probably is in prison by now. Now I'm not saying that the NBA is wrong to do this. In fact, I wish the NFL would remove excessive celebration penalties and stop trying to ram F-150's down my throat. But they don't give a rat's ass about me cause my disposable income is paltry compared to that of the generations above me.
So it seems, the NBA is almost forced to target this crappy demographic, us, because they can no longer control their image and reputation due to their talent. We don't have enough money to make them as successful as the other major sports leagues however, so they suffer and interest dies out across the country.
I guess the last unanswered question I could ask myself here is that why, if us young people don't mind the newer cultural ideals, don't more of us like the NBA? I've talked about why no older people know what's going on in the NBA, but it seems like not too many younger people do either. Well, my guess here is that when older interest dies, so does younger interest. If you're parents won't take you to the games, are you going to buy the overpriced seats? If they tell you the NBA is a joke, are you gonna follow it? We grow up idolizing those older than us, whether you believe it or not, and I think that has caused a lack of following even in us.
So will the NBA ever experience a revival if they continue on? Maybe, if we stick with it until we have money to spend, but how are we ever gonna make any money? I'm gonna go with pimpin' out ho's and slingin' o's (unless the NBA is reading this and would like to hire me as a consultant, in which case, feel free to email me lots of money).