Should I Stay or Should I Go?
The NBA became fixated on promoting its star players over its great teams around the time that Michael Jordan entered the league. Whereas great teams like the Lakers and Celtics seemed to define the league pre-Michael, once Michael became Air Jordan the league seemed to lose track of the value of great team play and instead focused all its marketing energy on promoting its stars. From Michael to Shaq to Kobe to Yao to LeBron, star players are at the center of the NBA universe today.
The San Antonio Spurs have become a dynasty and an every-year contender for the championship and they do it despite not having anyone quite as popular as LeBron, Carmelo or Kevin Love. The Spurs should be in the conversation as among the best teams ever. Yet, little attention is given to their recent championship over LeBron's Miami Heat. Instead almost all you hear about the NBA nowadays is front office, free agency drama.
Will LeBron remain a member of the Heat? Should he go back to Cleveland? Will Carmelo go to Chicago? Can the Knicks free up enough salary cap space to land Kevin Durant when he is a free agent?
The NBA, by focusing its marketing muscle on its stars, has created this situation. Instead of its fans focusing on great team play and celebrating the teams that win the championship, the NBA has turned into a soap opera where the main characters are lavishly paid super stars. I am a sports fan, not a fan of sports-themed soap opera drama. So, I can only do my best to tune out the sports talk shows and their obsessive focus on where LeBron and Carmelo will play next season.
The NBA has lost me and I cannot imagine I am the only one tired of the free agent drama. The issue facing the NBA is not unique to pro sports. When companies put too much emphasis on one player – the CEO, a star fund manager or a top rated analyst, for example – they run the risk of making their story more about its stars and less about the company. People leave their jobs for perceived greener pastures, they make mistakes that wind up as news tabloid fodder and sometimes their star just fades due to poor performance. Putting too much stock in any one player can be risky.
If there is a point I am trying to make, here it's this: The NBA story today focuses around the comings and goings of its super stars and as a result may be alienating its fan base. Corporations would be wise to not take a page from the NBA playbook and should not make any one executive the star of the team, or the centerpiece of its story. It is a risky proposition and the case of the NBA, in my humble opinion, shows it is not necessarily a formula for success.