stats Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis Subscribe to The Globe
The Globe and Mail /
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels


  This site         Tips

  The Web Google


  Where to Find It

Breaking News
  Home Page

  Report on Business



Subscribe to The Globe

Shop at our Globe Store

Print Edition
  Front Page

  Report on Business




  Arts & Entertainment



   Headline Index

 Other Sections

  Births & Deaths






  Facts & Arguments




  Real Estate









  Food & Dining




  Online Personals

  TV Listings/News

 Specials & Series
  All Reports...


   Where to Find It
 A quick guide to what's available on the site



  Customer Service

  Help & Contact Us



 Web Site

  E-Mail Newsletters

  Free Headlines

  Globe Store New

  Help & Contact Us

  Make Us Home

  Mobile New

  Press Room

  Privacy Policy

  Terms & Conditions


Raptors-Bucks' tale of two cities could break NBA's big-market supremacy

Email this article Print this article
Tuesday, May 14, 2019 – Page B13

TORONTO -- Contrasted with the joy in Toronto on Sunday night, one can imagine how things were going down at NBA headquarters in New York.

Would despair be too strong a word? How about resignation?

The Milwaukee Bucks versus the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference final is an imminent TV ratings natural disaster.

The ground will first start buckling on Fifth Avenue.

These two teams are mirror images - second or third cities (by NBA standards), small television markets, no recent history of real success, very little pull on the imagination 10 feet outside town limits.

Both are gifted with mononym superstars, but the sort who don't demand your attention. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks is too nice. Kawhi Leonard of the Raptors is too quiet.

People will warm to a nice or quiet sports celebrity after several years. But to create the urgency that sends them running to a screen, you're better off with an ill-mannered loudmouth or a frothing wild man. You know, the Charles Barkley/Dennis Rodman type.

Beyond their top men, neither team has any sort of identity outside of being good. Good offence, good defence, well organized. Different from everyone else in some way? Not really. They don't beat other teams down (such as the Golden State Warriors) or beat them up (all those great Detroit teams). Just good.

No, Milwaukee and Toronto doesn't work for most people.

These are the sort of cities NBA stars leave rather than go to.

That's the reputation.

What's in Milwaukee? I don't know. Beer?

And if you asked someone from Milwaukee what's in Toronto, they might say, "Snow." Or, if they were an NBA player, "Substandard cable options."

Beyond the matchups and oncourt stuff, that's what makes this series so great. It's the one no one in charge wanted.

Of course, they'd never say that out loud. But if the NBA marketing hacks could wave a wand and turn this into Boston-Philadelphia instead, they'd buy a chain of magician supply stores.

Unless there is some elevating incident - a major controversy of some sort - this series will be a matter largely between two metropolitan areas. The rest of Canada may get on board, but that won't mean anything to ESPN or TNT's bottom line.

The rest of the United States will give it a pass and expect the winner to serve as a stomping board for Golden State.

(We won't even get started on the idea of a Toronto/Milwaukee-Portland final. We don't want to send anyone in the NBA to the communal fainting couch.)

So this stuff is more mano-amano than usual at this time of year. It's two isolated fan bases with a lot of outsider angst staring across at each other and seeing themselves looking back.

It also means a potential reordering of the NBA's hierarchy.

Despite the salary cap, parity isn't really a thing for this league.

Going back a decade, only a few teams have really mattered - the Warriors, the Spurs, the Lakers, the Celtics and whatever team LeBron James happens to be on.

That's been good for the NBA.

No league has done a better job of making people its product. When you know who's going to win, you also know which people you should be concentrating on.

If Golden State's Steph Curry played in Sacramento, nobody would care what he thinks, what his wife says or what his kid does.

But because he is the best-known player on the league's best team, the NBA star ladder has turned Curry and his family into postsports brands. And they're good at it.

It's a little-discussed matter that the NBA seems to have enormous good luck in the personality of its biggest stars - Curry, James, James Harden and, soon, Zion Williamson. They all look at ease in front of a camera (unlike, say, the average hockey player).

They are the reason the NBA is the North American league most ambitiously pursuing becoming a global concern and the only one with a viable shot at it. That's possible not because basketball is so great, but because its top salespeople are so likeable. Since they just happen to be enormous, they're also easy to spot.

In a perfect marketing world, the NBA would tap an international player from some populous foreign country, give him charisma and elite talent, put him on the New York Knicks, pay a fortune teller to remove whatever curse the Knicks are currently under and watch the ad dollars roll in.

Milwaukee-Toronto is a small blip in that plan. But maybe it's got more legs than that.

Antetokounmpo is a star, but one who seems reticent to embrace the trappings. Perhaps he'll grow into it. The NBA would probably prefer he grew into it in Los Angeles.

But Antetokounmpo has also shown little desire to inflate his personal brand. He may even feel some loyalty to the team that drafted him when he was an interesting project rather than a guaranteed, in-the-paint monster.

Leonard may sell shoes by being extremely good at basketball while wearing them, but he's never going to be the host on Saturday Night Live. He's not going to publish a book. He's not even going to do an interview if it's anything more substantive than three questions being screamed at him postgame on the baseline.

Leonard - not a salesperson.

Not even a mail-order salesperson. What if Leonard stays in Toronto? What if Antetokounmpo does the same in Milwaukee? Is it possible this pair is the Eastern Conference's New World Order?

What a delicious idea. Two nobody teams become big-time somebodies overnight, while retaining the resentment of nobodies because they know everyone only likes them now because they're winning.

The NBA would figure out how to turn that into a positive. It is smart that way. But it would be a shift away from the more recent plan - stack a few traditional markets with your best products and lean on them to drive interest.

In hindsight, this series may be more than a basketball encounter. Maybe it will force a reconsideration - at least in the medium term - of how an entire league does its business.

Huh? How did I get here?
Return to Main Mathew_Ingram Page
Subscribe to
The Globe and Mail

Email this article Print this article

space  Advertisement

Need CPR for your RSP? Check your portfolio’s pulse and lower yours by improving the overall health of your investments. Click here.


7-Day Site Search

Breaking News

Today's Weather


Rick Salutin
Merrily marching
off to war
Roy MacGregor
Duct tape might hold
when panic strikes

Where Manley is going with his first budget



For a columnist's most recent stories, click on their name below.


Roy MacGregor arrow
This Country
Jeffrey Simpson arrow
The Nation
Margaret Wente arrow
Hugh Winsor  arrow
The Power Game

Rob Carrick arrow
Personal Finance
Drew Fagan arrow
The Big Picture
Mathew Ingram arrow
Brent Jang arrow
Business West
Brian Milner arrow
Taking Stock
Eric Reguly arrow
To The Point
Andrew Willis arrow

Stephen Brunt arrow
The Game
Eric Duhatschek arrow
Allan Maki arrow
William Houston arrow
Truth & Rumours
Lorne Rubenstein arrow
 The Arts

John Doyle arrow
John MacLachlan Gray arrow
Gray's Anatomy
David Macfarlane arrow
Cheap Seats
Johanna Schneller arrow

Murray Campbell arrow
Ontario Politics
Lysiane Gagnon arrow
Inside Quebec
Marcus Gee arrow
The World
William Johnson arrow
Pit Bill
Paul Knox arrow
Heather Mallick arrow
As If
Leah McLaren arrow
Generation Why
Rex Murphy arrow
Japes of Wrath
Rick Salutin arrow
On The Other Hand
Paul Sullivan arrow
The West
William Thorsell arrow

Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page