Sunday, July 16, 2017

Tha NBA Sells Out, Or Milking The Last Cow

We Bring Good Money To Asshats
Item: NBA jerseys are going to include ads on the front in the upcoming season.

First things first: cheap comedy. Most teams haven't announced revenue figures, but nine clubs have gone for this already, and it's an interesting group. Let's take them each in turn.

> $7 million to the Celtics for GE, because nothing says killing the planet with eco-hazards quite like... well, both of them, really

> $10 million to the Cavs for Goodyear, because when LeBron James leaves again next year, tire blowout and deflating blimp jokes won't be easy to make at all

> My Sixers (gah) for StubHub, AKA a ticket-scalping service that hasn't been used by anyone watching a Sixers game in the entire Process Era

> The Sacramento Kings going for Blue Diamond Almonds, because they are also a tasty snack for opponents

> The Orlando Magic lying down with Disney, because like Disney, the Magic are in the business of providing luxury vacations for visitors

> The Minnesota Timberwolves slapping on Fitbit, because it'll be nice to show digitally how often everyone on the team takes extra steps on their post moves

> The Brooklyn Nets (Brooklyn is still in the league? Oh, sixty year old baseball references are your key to Quality Comedy) for Infor, a software company that, like the Nets, no one knows or wants to know

> Toronto Raptors for Sun Life, because nothing says Sun and Life like a concrete Canadian city that the rest of the country not so secretly despises in the winter

> Utah Jazz for 5 For The Fight, a Qualtrics move to raise money for cancer research, because Utah exists to make you feel bad about trying to see the humor in things

But seriously, folks... half of the cash from each of these deals goes to the team, while the rest slides into a league-wide revenue pool. Which means that every single team will have one soon, because who wants to be the asshat that takes from, but doesn't contribute to, the pool?

And sure, it's inevitable, and has been the case for any number of jerseys in any number of leagues all over the world before now, so why make a fuss... but It's Inevitable isn't really a stirring call to arms, yes? Death is inevitable, and so are taxes, and visits to the dentist and incontinence and new music being unpalatable, and so on, and so on. Ads on jerseys won't reduce ticket prices, or give fans free parking (now *there's* a sponsorship opportunity that would engender serious good will), or even a free drink with food. So welcoming it is pointless, because it's just a money grab / "innovation" for the owners, and who in heaven's name would welcome that?

Instead, look at ads on jerseys for what they are. One more straw on the donkey's back (we're the donkeys, folks), one more reason to not watch sports or share them with your kids, one more jab to the kidneys in the perpetual punch-out game that is Sports v Fans. One more thing that takes away from the fun, and one more reminder in the middle of your escapism that there is, nope, no sir, no escape.

Sports teams are used to a certain equation; take, and no give. The game is good enough, the athletes amazing enough, the coverage worthwhile, the analysis and fandom adding so much more that the Lords of Sport could never have done on their own. The people in the stands are rubes, marks, sheeple; fleece 'em all you want, just don't be quite so obvious about it, and win often enough to get their hopes up. Or, what the hell, be obvious about it; there's always some other town that will take your robber baron ass with open arms, and leagues love it when owners go rogue, because it makes petty crimes so much easier to get away with.

But here's the thing: other parts of our society *don't* treat the customer this way. Video games give the user an ever-increasing amount of content and game play without labor stoppages, PR nightmares, and naked profiteering. The community of these gamers interact with each other as easily as sports fans do, and you can be passive or active in your participation. Gaming used to be console-based and stationary; now, it's everywhere. Maybe even at the actual real-life game, even.

I am, of course, long past the event horizon of when people stop caring about sports; even in a year of remarkable personal upheaval, I'm in three leagues, run two of them, and made special efforts to see the games that matter to me. That's all more likely to continue than not.

But my kids, now 17 and 11?

Could, maybe, give you about a minute on which sports are which, what's done in them, and what teams their dad roots for. They haven't watched a game with me in years, and I sincerely doubt there is any incentive that I could give them that would get them to go to a game now.

I don't consider myself to be a particularly great parent, but at least there, I think I got it right.

So enjoy your ad revenue, gentlemen. Milk that cow while she's still able to stand.

But I don't much like your chances of getting the same output in a few years...

Monday, July 10, 2017

Joel Embiid, Lonzo Bell, And The No-Beef Diet

I Cropped Lavar
Item: Joel Embiid, the Sixers' star center and best player in the laundry since Allen Iverson, has beef with the Lakers' first round pick, combo guard Lonzo Bell, and Bell's wrestling heel of a father, Lavar.

This has led to a $10K fine from the NBA to Embiid for a profane Instagram post to Bell, and a GoFundMe campaign from Sixer faithful who want to pay Embiid's fine for him.

(blinks)

No, seriously.

I know it's the silly season; summer, when the only games that count are baseball, and hoop fans are paying too much attention to NBA Summer League games because there are clues, dammit, of who the good rookies are going to be. (Hopefully, this occurs without injury.) I also get that beefs between players are catnip to many people, mostly because they aren't capable of just admitting that, well, they prefer WWE-style shenanigans to Actual Game.

Because the fact of the matter is that Embiid and Bell are *never* going to have a level of beef that actually impacts the game on the court. The Sixers and Lakers play twice a year. They aren't going to meet in the Finals again anytime soon, and while their battles in the '70s, '80s and Iverson's lone run to the Finals in 2001 were among the most meaningful games in the history of the Sixer franchise, they aren't all that likely to be replicated in our lifetime. Even if the Sixers are the next great superteam -- and honestly, bet against it, because as good as Embiid is, he's got to stay healthy, and as good as Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric and others may become, the chance to be great and actually being great are worlds apart...

Well, the Lakers just hired Magic Johnson to be their GM. Who hosted "The Magic Hour", and was the worst analyst ever heard on an NBA national game. Short of making money after hoop, and the Lakers being desperate for relevance in the post-Sterling Clipper Age, I'm not seeing why the guy got the gig. Watching him ship D'Angelo Russell out of town for the defense-free injured stylings of 29 going on 35 C Brook Lopez from the Nets doesn't exactly fill me with confidence that he's going to start fleecing guys in trades, either. In the contiunuum of ex-player turned GMs, Magic is trending to the Kevin McHale/Zeke Thomas dunce end, rather than the Joe Dumars/Jerry West Guys With Rings side. (Honestly, making your ex-star your GM doesn't seem to be a winning trick. Michael Jordan might be the worst GM in the last 20 years, and for all of the picks that Danny Ainge has hoarded, his C's are the very definition of Paper Tiger. Larry Bird's also been a sham for the Pacers, too. Anyway, moving on.)

So what's going to be the blowoff from all of this? Maybe a moment or two when Embiid blocks a Bell shot, or fouls him hard, and Angry Glances are exchanged. Perhaps even some players moving towards each other, with Shoving. Then the refs will jump in, wussy double technicals will be called, and both players will remember, oh, yeah, Game Actually Matters More Than Bullspit, at which point Game will continue.

Honestly, beef is just the worst, and I know... we're never going to get to live in a world where everyone's too smart to give a damn about it. Besides, Bell seems to have a talent and family support for rubbing people the wrong way. Expect the line of people wanting to torch him to be long, and far more local.

But if you really have to eat beef, here's something to consider.

Fultz was traded away by the Celtics to their greatest historic local rival. Between two cities who have ire over football and hockey, who are a long car ride away from each other, and who don't like each other for Actual Reasons, some of which go back hundreds of years.

He's going to play them four times a year, in the same division, with a more than reasonable chance of meeting them in the playoffs. More than once, even.

I get that he's not Embiid, and you don't really know or love him yet, but if anyone's bringing red meat to the table...

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Sixers Extend The Process: JJ Redick and Amir Johnson come to town

Please Don't Squeeze The TJ
So in yet another sign that The Mood Is About To Change in Philadelphia, my basketball laundry went out and made a couple of expensive but thoroughly useful one-year rentals. Coming to town is shooting guard JJ Redick from the Clippers, and big man Amir Johnson from the Celtics, both on one-year overpay deals that, well, Are Just Swell.

Let's start with Redick. He's a thoroughly capable 2-guard in today's NBA, an elite level shooter who is also not horrible at defense, ball handling or passing. He's past his prime, but not so much that it's a significant problem, and he's also going to the easier conference. On a team with willing passers and penetrators, and with the potential of best-in-class defensive anchor Joel Embiid behind him, he's going to be no problem at all on defense, and a guy that historically makes open threes often enough to be part of 50+ win teams in the West.

He's also a guy who was a stud in college, then a role player coming out, who has steadily rebuilt his body and game to compete at the highest level. He's not really a star, but he's better than 2/3rds of the guys that start at his position in the NBA, and he immediately injects a very necessary dose of veteran leadership into the Sixers' kiddie corps.

Even more important, honestly, is what the Redick signing signifies. Philadelphia is no longer a Siberia where no desirable free agent would ever dare to explore, or a place where winning is not an expected Process result. Redick chose Philadelphia over several other suitors, sent out a Trust The Process tweet, and fits in this lineup damn near perfectly. The Sixers won't have to hope for the shaky three balls of Robert Covington and Nik Stauskas next year as the fifth option on the floor in crunch time; instead, Redick will be getting into comfortable spots outside of an Embiid double team, taking the feed from a Ben Simmons dish, giving Markelle Faultz space. On a team that will also have Dario Saric doing lots of stuff, and even the useful stylings of Richaun Holmes (check out the big man's numbers from distance!), he adds depth for when others are having an off night.

Oh, and he also has a decent injury history, and the club didn't mess up any of its long-term cap room for locking down the young guns to long-term deals. It's just, well, perfect.

As for Johnson, the guy that wore his jersey a few years ago in Toronto is more useful than the guy who does that now, and it's a little worrisome that the Celtic rebounding numbers were so poor with him and Al Horford last year. But what you are getting from Amir is toughness -- useful when NBA vets play old man tricks on the team next year to get them off their composure -- and I suspect that being near Embiid will make him a hell of a lot more effective than being near Horford. If he does nothing more than suit up as an Elton Brand who can play next year, it'll be money well spent.

With the moves, the odds on the Sixers winning the NBA championship next year -- in a world, we presume, where there is a massive combination of good fortune on health, breakout seasons from a number of young guys, and some kind of zombie outbreak in the Bay Area -- dropped nicely. I wouldn't bet on them to be playing meaningful basketball in June myself....

But April? April is looking more and more likely.

And maybe even May...

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Chris Paul Trade, Or The Age Of Not Empire

The Hoopers, Season Two
Today in the NBA, Houston pulled off a monster of a trade to get Chris Paul, a year away from free agency and seemingly one of many people to tire of Doc Rivers' act (especially in regards to his not very good player/son Austin), for a seven-pack collection of tolerables and a future pick, AKA what happens in the NBA when a superstar decides to pull the chute, rather than re-sign with his current team. There are, of course, other rumors afloat that the Rockets are now angling to also get Carmelo Anthony and Paul George in a desperate attempt to close the gap with the dreaded Warriors, but for now, let's unpack what actually happened. (Also, um, Carmelo Anthony not so secretly sucks. But that's another column for another day.)

First, what the Clips got. Patrick Beverly is a very good defensive point guard who scores just enough to start, but will never be a star, because, well Offense Matters and defensive hammers can be found on the open market. Kind of like how Beverly was. Lou Williams is a reasonable enough bench scorer who, when his shot isn't falling, is an active liability; there's a reason he's been on so many teams over the last few years, and not so much in terms of playing games in May. Montrezl Harrell is an athletic back-up 5 and Sam Dekker is a 3/4 who could be part of a balanced bench and breakfast' they are both tolerable enough to be more than fungible, but probably won't escape the Wheel of Mediocrity. The other three guys, you haven't heard of and won't, and the 2018 first round pick, since there's no chance in hell that it will hit in the lottery, also doesn't really matter all that much. If the Clips can sign Blake Griffin now, keep him and DeAndre Jordan healthy, Beverly gets a bit better on offense, and someone else from the fixin's bar develops, the Clips could actually win this deal, if only because Paul was gonna walk for nothing.

And the reason why they could win the deal, despite giving up a 9-time All-Star and perpetual short pick as best pure point in the NBA is that.... Chris Paul is 32, increasingly brittle, and entering the decline portion of his career in which he still thinks he can take over games, when he can't. Houston is going to put him in the same backcourt with James Harden, which is to say that two very heavy usage guys are going to have to learn to live together... and while Paul is a good defensive player, he's, well, 32. The past few years, the secret reason why the Warriors have worn the Clippers out like a bad suit is because Paul can't stay with Stephen Curry any more, and Curry knew it.

There's also this: Harden had an amazing year last year, but he was absolutely stone-cold spent by the time the playoffs came around... kind of like, well, the Clips every year with Paul, where they never got past the second round of the playoffs, despite frequently having home court.

Could it work? Sure; great players who pass tend to make the players around them better, and the Rockets still have Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson, aka three guys who shoot it well from three and will have as few hands in their faces in 2017-18 as whoever plays with LeBron James. They don't have the bigs to compete, but in the NBA, bigs don't seem to matter quite so much anymore, and with five legit three-point threats in the lineup in smallball crunch time, the Rockets could score in bunches and leave teams in the dust. Besides, as the Warriors showed last year, tolerable benchies will gravitate like bees to flowers when they sense the Superstar Train is a running. Mike D'Antoni's run and fun system is also likely to attract people who don't want to muck stalls for a living.

But in the bigger picture, Houston just added another guy who isn't at his best in the playoffs (sorry, CP3, but a lifetime of precedent tends to predict a future of it)... to a team with a coach who always bones it in the playoffs, who had an established MVP candidate who was last seen... stinking up the joint in his last game of the playoffs. And for all of the threes they are going to shoot, that shot needs to be 40% to be worth 60% from inside the arc, and the Rockets are going to be a layup line on cutters making dunks next year in long rebound transition.

The Clips got something out of Paul rather than letting him walk for nothing, but it's hard to see the Rockets as any more threatening then they were before the trade went down. More fun to watch, sure, but actual threat to hoist a trophy... not so much. The NBA is a two-way game now, and Houston is only seeing the frontcourt in the big picture.

Monday, June 26, 2017

FTT (Somewhat) Off-Topic: GLOWing with quality

Wrestling is the new awesome
A cross-post from the business blog, because I think it kind of qualifies as sports. Besides, the more people watch this show, the better the chance that they are going to make a whole lot more of it, and they really need to make a whole lot more of it. If for no other reason than watching Alison Brie heel it up is the best thing ever.

* * * * *

This weekend, I binge-watched the new Netflix comedy/drama "GLOW", which stars Alison Brie and Marc Maron. It's a fictionalized version of the creation of an '80s television show for a women's wrestling promotion, and, well, it's great. The writer and director who worked on it honed their craft on the acclaimed "Orange Is The New Black", it hits all of the period notes just right, it does a wonderful job of stretching out and telling the stories over over a dozen people in its ensemble cast, and I hope they make many more seasons of it. Full stars.

But as delighted as I was by watching this, and as much as I'd recommend it to friends, that's not the most striking thing about watching this. What "GLOW" does is prove, not exactly for the first time but in a way that just deepens the conversation while adding more precedent, is provide the viewer with something they hadn't seen before. By doing that, it's just one more moment of long-form/small-audience entertainment that is just so much better than anything you might see in a movie theater. "GLOW" doesn't have to follow the set rules of big-budget stuff, which means it can be, well, so much better than what it might otherwise have been.

This way, you don't need to check the demographic boxes of people who will pay and leave their homes to see a project, and shoehorn in elements that don't really fit. Nor do you have to put the needs of multi-lingual audiences first with big special effects and less than full verbal acceptance. You can avoid having to sand off the very rough edges of your main characters in the goal of making them conventionally likable or attractive. You can also go to deeper and darker places with your plot twists, and not have to worry about de facto censoring from corporate interests and co-promotional tie-ins.

You can, in short, just make art for art's sake, and do so over a far more optimal amount of time. (In GLOW's case, 10 episodes, or the much better part of one day / evening's viewing.)

This is, of course, a dramatic and disruptive change in our world, where movies go from not just cultural hegemony and economic dominance to a much more blunt and narrow place. It also creates the conditions for economic upheaval, since I suspect shows like "GLOW" are going to be part of a retail apocalypse-like meltdown of movie screens, the same way that North America will eventually lose a third of its retail stores from the shift to online and economic leveling.

For everyone who thinks the U.S. is just going to keep growing, I've got a heaping helping of skepticism from the sheer passing of the Baby Boomers from areas of impact. There will be exceptions at the individual company level, of course, but it's not going to be a rising tide for all boats. Which all translates to rough time for the most treasured placement in brand advertising, the 30-second broadcast spot. Now that I'm cord-cut and the NBA Finals are over, I haven't seen one of those in over a week, and probably won't again until the NFL season starts. I can't imagine I'm alone in that group, really.

But all of that, of course, is Not Your Problem as the individual consumer. For us, there are simply great and memorable viewing experiences that stick in your brain for a long time to come, an unprecedented array of choice and convenience, and the desire to share that better way of living with friends and family. Hopefully for many more seasons to come.

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