Imagine you live in a city and there is a business in that city. No, I am not asking you to stretch your imagination, but I would ask you a question: would you root for that business to succeed? What if the business had the name of your city in it? Would you root for it even more? Perhaps if one of your friends was involved in the business, you’d have an interest, but my guess is that most businesses come and go without much notice. When a person roots for a professional sports franchise, they are rooting for a corporate entity. Sports franchises have the best marketing campaign in the world: we couldn’t do it without you, the fans. Is this true? Bill Simmons sure thinks so, but I have my doubts.
As I’ve written before, one of my least favorite aspects of sports is that a championship in any sport allows a city to heal from a tragedy. Somehow the Saints’ Super Bowl win in 2010 allowed New Orleans “to be over” Hurricane Katrina, while the Red Sox won their championship to heal Boston and show its strength. It’s great marketing and it is also a bunch of hooey. Sports franchises are businesses within themselves and no more represent the city than any other business. Do the people in Cincinnati root for Proctor and Gamble products? Go Pampers!
The recent ownership issues in the NBA have reminded me of my feelings about sports franchises. We’ll get to Donald Sterling in a moment, but I figured I’d address the incipient sale of the Milwaukee Bucks (as one of the two writers on the Manifesto who “fears the deer.”) This may go against my Wisconsin roots, but I was hoping that a group from Seattle would buy the franchise from former Senator Herb Kohl and move the team. Aren’t we tired of listening to Seattle whine about how their team was taken from them? It’s a shame that they can’t root for a team that has consistently won since leaving. If the Bucks did leave Milwaukee, would the city shrivel away? Did that happen to Seattle when the Sonics left? I guess it is nice that the good people of Seattle had something to complain about other than anything that really matters. I’d prefer that the franchise moves than hear about how the Bradley Center with its dearth of luxury boxes is no longer suitable for an NBA franchise. That is exactly what Milwaukee needs: a new stadium that will price out the people who want to see a game.
As for Sterling, he seems like a pretty awful person with 200-year-old ideas of equality. The Clippers were terrible until they lucked into the top pick with Blake Griffin and eventually brought Chris Paul on board (after he was derailed away from the Lakers). Number one overall picks are not a certain thing (says the guy who rooted for the team that took Kent Benson, Glenn Robinson, and Andrew Bogut with three top overall picks; the Bucks did get Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1969). Even the Clippers had the top overall pick twice before and took the injury riddled Danny Manning and Michael Olowokandi. It’s kind of a coincidence that just as the Clippers were relevant on a national stage, Sterling got ousted. I do wonder if his suspension and fine will cause him to see the error of his ways (or make him even more of a racist).
Despite allowing Sterling to hang around for 33 years, the NBA has shown its value as an entertainment, particularly over the last month. It’s astonishing how talented the players are (particularly after watching a year’s worth of college basketball) and they routinely perform amazing feats on the basketball court. However, let’s not take these feats to mean anything more than an entertainment, even if the NBA’s marketing scheme tells us to.