Dwyane Wade, more important than “O Canada”?

Bleacher Report broke this story on Dwyane Wade’s apparent disrespect for the Canadian national anthem before the Miami Heat’s Game 3 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Saturday. Mr. Wade was continuing to shoot buckets during most of the opening verse of “O Canada.” Quoting the article:

Wade explained on Sunday how he didn’t mean it as a slight to Canada, saying, per the Associated Press’ Tim Reynolds, “If anyone thinks I was being disrespectful, they don’t know who Dwyane Wade is.”

The 34-year-old veteran added, per the Palm Beach Post’s Jason Lieser, “I understand whatever’s said about it, but I’m not a disrespectful person.”


Reynolds went on to explain how part of Wade’s pregame ritual includes making his last shot before lining up for the national anthem. He kept failing to convert that aspect of his routine, which explained the ongoing quest for a bucket before “O Canada.”

I don’t care what level of basketball you are playing or how much you are getting paid. If the event is of enough importance that a national anthem–whether your country’s or that of your opponents–is being performed before the game, the proper thing to do is be respectful and stop whatever you are doing. Respect is the most important part of any pregame ritual.

Mr. Wade’s comments only aggravate the situation. His words speak the exact opposite of his actions. And honestly, his words ring rather hollow. The video of Mr. Wade shooting baskets during the opening verse of “O Canada” will certainly make its way around much faster than any lame excuses he can offer up for his disrespectful and egomaniacal actions.

According to Wikipedia, Mr. Wade is getting paid $20 million this year. Perhaps a large fine will get his attention that shooting extra hoops during a national anthem is something you Just Don’t Do. Shame on you, Mr. Wade.

The story of an egregious racist: in re Donald Sterling

I’m assuming everyone, even non-basketball fans, has heard of the incident involving Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. In case you missed it, or if you need to review them, here are the links which cover not only the most recent development, but further insight into Mr. Sterling’s history:

Mr. Sterling’s history as a businessman, both as an NBA team owner and otherwise, has been peppered with several “black mark” incidents of discrimination. Perhaps the most egregious of them was what he said to Rollie Massimino way back in 1983: “I wanna know why you think you can coach these n#$%&#s.” To truly understand this quote, though, it should be seen in context. From the Jeff Pearlman article:

Anyhow, according to [Paul] Phipps [the LA Clippers’ GM at the time], Massimino boarded the jet, and when he landed in Los Angeles he exited the walkway and spotted Sterling. “They met,” said Phipps, “and between 3 and 4 in the morning my phone rings.” It was an irate Massimino. “I’m sorry,” he told Phipps, “but I’d never work for that son of a bitch. Ever.” “Here’s this guy,” Massimino said, “and he has this blonde bimbo with him, they have a bottle of champagne, they’re tanked. And Don looks at me and he says, ‘I wanna know why you think you can coach these n#$%&#s.’” Massimino told Phipps he began screaming at Sterling and swore he’d rather die than become coach of the Clippers. “That,” said Phipps, “was life with Donald Sterling.”

Unfortunately, as state previously, this was in 1983, so it would have been much more difficult for Rollie to have recorded this conversation than it would be today even if he had had the foresight to do so. However, I honestly don’t think either Paul or Rollie have any reason to wantonly defame Mr. Sterling in a tortious manner (i.e. tell a complete lie, especially one which could easily result in a lawsuit). So I’m going to assume the story is more or less true the way it was told. The reason almost nobody heard about it is that no media outlet would report this without running a very real risk of getting sued and the almost unending stream of problems (bad PR, losing advertisers, otherwise great employees quitting) that comes with such a high-profile lawsuit. It’s all hearsay, and it wouldn’t hold up in a court of law.

That said, especially in light of things that have happened since, I believe it. In 2002, Mr. Sterling’s comments to the manager of an apartment included this rather nasty line, regarding a female tenant by the name of Kandynce Jones: “I am not going to do that [reimburse a female tenant for damage caused by a defective refrigerator]. Just evict the bitch.” Mr. Sterling also asked regarding Kandynce: “Is she one of those black people that stink?”

This is consistent with statements Mr. Sterling made to the same manager when he was buying the property previously: “That’s because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they’re not clean, [a]nd it’s because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day. So we have to get them out of here.” And it’s also consistent with this prejudicial statement Mr. Sterling made to another property manager: “I like Korean employees and I like Korean tenants… I don’t have to spend any more money on them, they will take whatever conditions I give them and still pay the rent…so I’m going to keep buying in Koreatown.” In fact at one point, Mr. Sterling even changed the name of a complex to “Korean World Towers” and had a banner printed entirely in Korean hung on the building. He also had Korean-born armed guards who were ordered to be hostile to people not of Korean origin. But it gets even worse, per this tidbit from the ESPN: The Magazine article:

When it comes to female subordinates in his real estate business, Sterling shows a distinct racial preference. In 2003 he had 74 white employees, four Latinos, zero blacks and 30 Asians, 26 of them women, according to his Equal Employment Opportunity filings with the state of California. (The numbers are similar for the other years in which Sterling has been charged with racial discrimination.)

Fast forward to 2006 August. The US Department of Justice sued Mr. Sterling for housing discrimination prohibited by the Fair Housing Act. Despite attempts to obstruct the legal process  (which were noticed and commented on by Judge Dale S. Fischer during the settlement) Mr. Sterling eventually settled the suit for a fine of $2.73 million, plus attorney’s fees and costs in the total of $4,923,554.75. In 2009, Mr. Sterling was sued by Elgin Baylor for employment discrimination, noting that “the Caucasian head coach was given a four-year, $22 million contract” while Elgin’s salary was frozen at $350,000 since 2003. In the lawsuit, Elgin claims Mr. Sterling said he wanted to fill his team with “poor black boys from the South and a white head coach.”

And Mr. Sterling’s conduct goes beyond racism, to just plain anti-social conduct in general. At one point, disclosed in a New York Post interview from 2012, Baron Davis talks about when he played for the Clippers (between 2008 and 2011) and was heckled by Mr. Sterling during practice. Mr. Sterling would “cuss at [Baron] and call him an idiot.” Do any other NBA owners do lame crap to their players like this? I doubt it.

And now, fast forward to 2014 April. Mr. Sterling is caught on tape telling his mistress not to bring “black people to his games.” This comment, and other comments like it in the audio TMZ published, got him a lifetime ban from NBA professional basketball and a $2.5 million fine as announced this past Tuesday. It also got several corporate sponsors of LA Clippers to drop the team like a hot potato.

Officially, according to the press conference, NBA commissioner Adam Silver is only banning Mr. Sterling due to the most recent incident. In fact the commissioner specifically said “I cannot speak to past actions” regarding the fact that little, if anything, was done during the tenure of David Stern as NBA commissioner. Unofficially, though, it’s quite possible that Mr. Sterling’s checkered past regarding discrimination incidents played at least a supporting role.

I don’t see the logic in Mr. Sterling continuing to own and make money off of a team in a league where the majority of players are men of color and which is a rather large part of hip-hop culture, when clearly he has a problem with both people of color and Latinos (the two groups which started hip-hop culture in the 1970s). Who in their right mind just drops the N-bomb like that, “tanked” or not, when talking to a stranger? Just how hypocritical is it to say “blacks… smell [and] are not clean” on one hand, and make money hand over fist off of the efforts of black people on the other?

I have been a basketball fan on and off over the past decade or so (both NBA and WNBA; I still miss the Houston Comets). I recognize the NBA is connected strongly to hip-hop culture, more so than any other sport or even other basketball leagues such as the WNBA. While I’m not a fan of hip-hop culture, I am tolerant of it and realize that it is what it is; I can accept that hip-hop culture is a part of the NBA fan culture (much like country music and the NASCAR fan culture). I’m also much more impressed by successful three-point shots (which are quite capable of changing a game’s outcome) than I am impressed by a slam dunk (which will only ever score two points, just like any other basket made inside the arc). I’m not a typical NBA fan by any means, but I have always been against discrimination, particularly flagrant and persistent racism of the variety seen here.

Mr. Sterling, quite honestly, you are the one who stinks with your downright putrid and vile racism. You may be in Los Angeles, but I can smell it all the way over here in Houston, Texas, and I’m sure others can smell it as far away as New York City or for that matter, just about anywhere in the world. Honestly, I think it is a damn shame that under the NBA constitution and bylaws, Commissioner Silver could only fine you $2.5 million, because you’re getting off way too easy given the trivial portion of your wealth that $2.5 million represents. You actually deserve to be fined the entire value of the Los Angeles Clippers franchise–actually more than that, you deserve to lose all the profit you’ve made from them since the day in 1983 when you crossed the line and referred to your players using the most offensive slur possible for people of color. Indeed, the absolutely demonic racism and bigotry you expressed in a conversation you knew was being recorded has actually harmed your business interests as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. Given this, it defies any sense of logic that you would want to continue to hang on to an asset that you yourself have devalued, and which will only continue to decline in value as long as you own it. Not only will it decline in value as long as you own it, it will decline in value specifically because you, Donald Sterling, own it. In marketing we call this “negative brand equity,” a concept you would have done well to familiarize yourself with at least before buying the Clippers, if not before getting into real estate (unfortunately, I think it’s too late now). Not only do you have no business owning or being associated with an NBA team, you have no business owning or being associated with a professional sports franchise in any sport. And honestly, I dare say you don’t have any business working in real estate either given your past violations of the Fair Housing Act, the “Korean World Towers” incident, and your absolutely horrible treatment of Kandynce Jones. Unfortunately for the rest of us, you are a walking, talking illustration of the phrase “more money than sense.” And dare I say it, I would be happy if someone truthfully told me you died broke, and I doubt I’m the only one.

To the other professional sports organizations, specifically (but not limited to) the National Football League, the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, and NASCAR: You really shouldn’t need me to tell you how bad of an idea it is to allow Mr. Sterling to be an owner of a team or franchise in your respective organizations. But, for the record: as a fan of many specific sports, as well as a fan of sports in general and a fan of good morals and egalitarianism (equal treatment without regard to attributes such as race and gender), I will be severely disappointed should I find out Mr. Sterling is now associated with a team or franchise in any of your respective organizations, and I am positive I will not be the only one.

To the other 29 owners in the NBA: Edmund Burke is quoted as saying “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” I believe you are all good men (and women). You will soon have an opportunity to do something about an egregious racist among your ranks who makes the entire NBA, your basketball league, look bad. Your commissioner did the right thing, but it’s up to you to finish the job. Please make the most of your opportunity.

To Adam Silver: To say the least, I think it is unfortunate that you were faced with this crisis so early in your tenure as commissioner of the NBA. However, you handled it extremely well and for that you deserve to be applauded. I realize there are people who will say something should have been done about Mr. Sterling a long time ago; in response to them, you may wish to quote the Chinese proverb “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, the second best time is now.” It is my sincere hope that this is the beginning, not the end, of a quest to rid the NBA of discrimination. It is also my sincere hope that this is the only such sanction you have to impose during your tenure as NBA commissioner.

And finally, to all the NBA fans out there (fans of any of the 30 teams): There’s no better time to support your team than now. The commissioner of our beloved NBA has shown, just over two into his tenure, that he can make the right decision when the situation calls for it, and that he will not tolerate racism during his tenure. That’s a good reason to remain a fan or to come back if you have left within the tumultous events of the past few days.

What is the NBA thinking? Sponsored jerseys under consideration

The New York Times recently reported on the NBA’s consideration of jersey sponsorship. The report cites examples of the WNBA and MLS as prior successes.

From the article:

Adam Silver, the N.B.A.’s deputy commissioner, said in an e-mail:
“If we add sponsor logos to jerseys, we recognize that some of our fans will think we’ve lost our minds. But the N.B.A. is a global business and logos on jerseys are well established in other sports and commonplace outside the U.S. Our goal isn’t to be the first major league to do it, but in the same way that virtually all arenas and stadiums now have naming rights deals, we recognize it’s only a matter of time.” […]

In 2009, the [WNBA’s] Phoenix Mercury signed a three-year deal worth at least $1 million annually with LifeLock, the identity theft protection company, to replace the name on its jersey with the company’s name. […]

Four teams followed the Mercury-LifeLock deal with similar ones: the Liberty, with Foxwoods Resort; the Los Angeles Sparks (Farmers Insurance); the Seattle Storm (Bing); and the Washington Mystics (Inova Health System). Then, last season, Boost Mobile acquired the rights to add its logo beneath the players’ numbers on the jerseys of 10 of the 12 W.N.B.A. teams.

For reference, here are pictures of the 2009-2010 home jerseys and 2009-2010 away jerseys of the Phoenix Mercury, courtesy of sportslogos.net. The first problem I notice is one can’t tell what city these jerseys are from unless you know which team Lifelock sponsored that year. There is no mention of Phoenix anywhere on the jersey. Not even in smaller type.

Contrast this with the Houston Dynamo’s 2007-2008 home jerseys and 2007-2008 road jerseys (also from sportslogos.net). The Dynamo have since added a sponsor in similar fashion to the Mercury starting with the 2008-2009 season; though there is a smaller Dynamo logo elsewhere on the jersey, similar confusion now results for new fans to the game who wonder who this “Amigo Energy” or “Greenstar” team is (previous and current Dynamo uniform sponsors, respectively).

While I do have a favorite NASCAR driver (Kurt Busch), I hardly ever watch the races on television. But I do know there are sponsor logos everywhere–the cars, the driver uniform, the pit crew. NASCAR is a bit different, though, as the cost of keeping a team going without sponsors is prohibitive, though it could be done if the race lengths were shortened by a factor of 10. I will happily concede the Daytona 50 just doesn’t have the same ring to it, nor would it attract as many fans.

With sponsors also comes the possibility of silly conflicts. Not only are NASCAR’s vehicles and teams sponsored, but NASCAR’s various series are sponsored as well. Best known to most fans is the Sprint Cup Series, sponsored by the mobile phone provider of the same name. Flash back to 2007 when AT&T merged with BellSouth, and Cingular would cease to exist as a mobile phone brand. At the time, Cingular was the sponsor of the #31 car (Richard Childress Racing). AT&T thought they would be able to just take the Cingular logos off the car, put on the new AT&T logo, and be done with it. Sprint had other ideas, and for a short time the #31 car raced without a sponsor logo. Eventually a deal was worked out where AT&T could sponsor the car in 2008 but only after agreeing to leave the sport afterwards–a pretty lousy deal for AT&T given that they paid for sponsorship through 2010.

I point out NASCAR here to show what it looks like at the bottom of the slippery slope. I don’t want NBA uniforms to look like that, and I can only imagine the can of worms opened up when, say, Apple sponsors the LA Clippers uniforms and then gets hacked off when Microsoft or Google wants to sponsor the All-Star Game. Really now, if I want to watch soap operas I can add Young and the Restless to my DVR’s recording list.

It may seem strange, but I actually miss simple yet profound NBA arena names like The Summit, The Forum, The Spectrum, Boston Garden, etc. I remember vividly reading the reaction of a kid to the renaming of The Summit to Compaq Center, which went something like “are they playing basketball or selling computers?” Adult fans have complained about the overmerchandising of Toyota’s motor vehicles at the Rockets’ new home, Toyota Center, something that to my knowledge Compaq was not guilty of during that company/brand’s time as naming rights holder of the Rockets’ former home.

The practical problems are enough by themselves. But, even as a marketing/PR consultant, I honestly feel that sponsor logos on uniforms just flat out look tacky. It’s almost like the NBA is saying “we give up, we’re broke”. I also have serious doubts the would-be sponsors would want their company name associated with gang activity. In theory, of course, the gangs can already use WNBA or MLS uniforms as their attire but I don’t think this is likely as the NBA is much better known.

In conclusion, if the NBA really wants me gone as a fan, this is a great move. I am not against sponsorships and advertising in principle but the line has to be drawn somewhere. I also hope the NBA thinks ahead, and realizes the only thing tackier than sponsored uniforms today, is NBA footage of today’s games shown 5, 10, 20 years from now with the name of some now-bankrupt or since-taken-over company splashed across the players’ jerseys. Or worse, if it’s decided a given product can’t be advertised on TV and they sponsored NBA jerseys for a given year, to just air those games may mean some guy is working overtime on the blur machine. Indeed, it would be quite hilarious if the NBA did this, then abandons the experiment after four or five seasons and then we heard sportscasters talk about “the sponsored jersey era” after realizing just what a bad move it was.

Orange ball, red ink: the NBA’s surprising financial losses

David Nelson’s recent seattlepi.com blog entry addressed a rather surprising revelation by David Stern, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Commissioner Stern says that the NBA lost $370 million last season, and has lost $200 million in each of the prior 4 seasons. This adds up to well over $1 billion in losses over the past five seasons.

David Nelson is, of course, writing from the perspective of a Seattle resident, and thus includes a less-than-flattering reference to the Oklahoma City Thunder (which were formerly the Seattle Supersonics). David also makes reference to the possibility of an NBA lockout on or about 2011 July 01 should no new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) be reached, which is echoed in this story printed in USA Today.

This is a scary thought for sports fans with relatively fresh memories of the NHL’s lockout which resulted in the cancellation of a full season (the 2004-05 season), as well as the NBA’s abbreviated 1998-99 season which was also due to a lockout.

To say it would be unfortunate to lose even part of the 2011-12 NBA season would be an understatement. We should remember a large part of reason the NHL lost a whole season, however, was the stubborn refusal of the NHLPA to believe that the owners were telling the truth about how much money was being lost. And no offense intended to hockey fans or players, but I’d like to think NBA players are smart enough to reach a reasonable agreement.

I understand the frustrations of some of the public, basketball fans or not, who take a very dim view of two rival groups of millionaires squabbling (and I say this as public perception, even though a number of rookie NBA players do not qualify as millionaires in the strict sense). I think it is unfortunate that these types of labor disputes happen, but they happen everywhere; it’s just that in professional sports, they get much more publicity due to the large fan base.

#lebrondecision: a few thoughts

Okay, so normally I let out-of-market team and player news fly right over my head and pay no mind to it. But given the unique circumstances around this event, I couldn’t help but notice, and I decided to weigh in.

Cleveland Cavaliers majority owner Dan Gilbert recently posted this open letter on the team’s news page on NBA.com, regarding LeBron James (better known to some as “King James”) and his decision to sign with the Miami Heat instead of continuing to, as the saying goes, dance with the one that brought him. In that letter, Dan berates LeBron using some choice words:

As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier.

This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his “decision” unlike anything ever “witnessed” in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment.

And Dan goes on to imply LeBron’s actions are a “cowardly betrayal” and states that Cavaliers fans “deserve much more.” Later in the letter, Dan refers to LeBron’s move as a “heartless and callous action” after already making an owner’s most audacious possible promise:


I don’t particularly defend LeBron’s actions here nor do I necessarily condemn them. I have written about freedom many times in this blog, usually in the context of computer software, but this is about freedom, particularly that implied by the first word in “free agent.” In the free agent era, it is ultimately the player’s (LeBron’s, in this case) choice which offer to accept, or even whether or not to accept any team’s offer at all and retire as a free agent. Disloyal, cowardly, or otherwise, it is anyone’s right to pursue the best job offer and such decisions need not be based entirely on pay. It is easy for the casual sports fan to forget that this is an employment decision for the players, much the same as the average person chooses between two or more competing job offers from, say, different marketing/PR firms.

That said, having seen “LeBron James” as a promoted trending topic on Twitter, and not being able to avoid mentions of the situation without disconnecting from social media completely, I personally feel the publicity leading up to LeBron’s announcement was just a bit over-the-top. There’s promotion, and then there’s over-promotion. Yes, I’m known for my ego as well, and I’ve probably been guilty of over-promotion a couple of times myself. But that was not intentional.

It’s understandable, though, if it’s all LeBron and his PR team hyping his personal brand. I remember seeing at least one tweet implying the NBA was in on this as well; if so, that’s a tasteless and exploitative publicity move, and not something a sports league of the NBA’s caliber should partake of.

It remains to be seen just how much bad blood there will be between Cleveland and Miami and the fans of their respective teams. I may well comment on this again once the NBA season gets rolling. Hopefully, the Rockets will put on a show that’s much more interesting, though.