I want to root for the Cavaliers and the Cavaliers only. I’ve stated that a lot of times over the past year. I don’t want to watch superstar matchups on TNT and crack about Craig Sager and the boys back in the studio unless the Cavaliers are playing. This season that meant that I didn’t watch a TNT broadcast all year long.1 More and more though, I think those TNT fans are the target market of the NBA. And now, I have proof, albeit anecdotal.
I was walking around Aurora Farms the other day and I ran into a pack of dudes who were probably high school seniors. Certainly old enough to drive themselves to the conglomeration of stores. They were white kids, walking around talking about the NBA all wearing jerseys.2 One had Kevin Durant. One had Derrick Rose. One had the Houston Rockets iteration of Tracy McGrady and one had Raptors Vince Carter.3 They were quizzing each other on facts about their respective guys as I happened to run into them in both the Nike and Under Armour stores.
“Hey. Do you know what number Durant wears for the Olympics?”4 They were really having a lot of fun talking about the NBA while wearing their jerseys in a clear Cavaliers market with nary a Cavalier represented among them.
I was surprised that nobody liked the owners in the NBA lockout. I didn’t expect anyone to feel sorry for the owners because they’re a bunch of rich guys. But as it moved along, I expected more people to come around to the owners’ side. In the end, owners goals were more aligned with the goals of fans. Or at least I thought so at the time. Fans and owners should both want teams to control the movement of talent in order to accomplish team goals in winning. As a Cavaliers fan, first and foremost, I want to see that team get as talented as possible so they can make runs at NBA titles. I honestly don’t care much about the desired locales in which certain superstars decide they want to play. Maybe that team-oriented fan is increasingly becoming a minority in the NBA, though.
Could it be that this type of fan with all the jerseys dominates the whole landscape? Is the “me first” attitude of NBA players now leaking into the fan base so much that fans don’t care about teams and team goals either? Is the NBA becoming the first real live fantasy league? Have they taken the fantasy sports aesthetic and brought it to an entire sport so that fans can be team agnostic?
That’s a lot of questions with not a lot of answers.
Obviously it isn’t an all or nothing proposition. There will always be some team-first fans, some fans of individual superstars and a third kind of fan that is a hybrid following both a team and a few select superstars. What I’m interested in is what the split looks like in the pie chart. What percentage of the NBA fans are fans of “the league” as opposed to a team first? I think that number is probably growing and I know for a fact that it doesn’t include me.
The league hasn’t really endeared itself to the team-first fans over the last few years as teams have seem to lost any semblance of leverage in player movement despite paying exorbitant contracts. Obviously this new CBA hasn’t had much of a chance to play out, yet either. Maybe it is isolated to this one instance, but since LeBron James left Cleveland my perception has become I’m not the target market for the NBA. As players move around, team up and create situations for themselves, they’re going to continue to promote the type of fan that is elated to wear a Kevin Durant jersey in the heart of Cleveland Cavaliers country.
You can have that version of the NBA, but it isn’t for me. This is stated without judgment or prejudice either. There is no reason to think it is a bad thing for a Cleveland-area kid to love a guy like Kevin Durant or Derrick Rose. They’re both great players and seemingly pretty good guys overall.
It just isn’t my choice. I won’t choose to raise my sons that way either. Maybe that means they won’t be NBA fans at all. Who knows?
- OK. I watched one game when my family and I were driving to Orlando for vacation and it was on in the hotel bar somewhere in Georgia while I was unwinding with a beer. But I didn’t control the TV and I couldn’t hear the sound, so I don’t think it counts, really. [↩]
- They had neither sleeves nor the proverbial “guns” to justify going sleeveless, but that’s irrelevant to the story. [↩]
- Wouldn’t it be ironic if the McGrady and Carter duo were cousins just like McGrady and Vince Carter are? [↩]
- The answer is 5, BTW. [↩]