Friday, July 14, 2006


So if you read the following blog you may roll your eyes and think I have lost it. Then again, don’t answer that loaded question. Anyway, in the late 80s and all through the 90s, the NBA was the leader in marketing and branding of a League, its players and its teams. The executives in the commissioner’s office spent a plethora of time overseeing all the little aspects of the League to ensure everything was perfect. Did you know every year, the NBA develops a list of the top ten rookies who should speak to the media and the top ten rookies who should not speak? I've seen the list. Image is everything with the NBA.

Where am I going with this? When it comes to the first pick in the NBA draft, 90% of the time, I do not believe it is luck. The NBA gives the first pick to certain teams for a variety of reasons – team needs a new stadium, team has new owners or there is new management. You may be reading this right now and think I am crazy. This isn’t some conspiracy theory. The League needs to continue to generate interest around the country and the world with new and interesting players. Some teams are always in the news, while other teams need “some help.” From a sponsorship perspective, why would you want to continually sponsor a team that never wins? The NBA commissioner’s office doesn’t run the teams, but I definitely think they whisper how things should be run at certain times.

If you want to market a league correctly, sometimes you need to bend the rules without anyone noticing. Let’s look back over the last 20 years at the outcome of the NBA draft:

1985 – New York Knicks – Patrick Ewing

Outcome: Please. Do we even have to address this pick. Media, to this day, still believe this pick was staged. Ewing was the most dominate player coming out of Georgetown and the NBA needed to do everything in its power to make the Knicks relevant again in its most important media market.

1995 – Golden State Warriors – Joe Smith

Outcome: “The Oakland Arena followed suit in June 1996 with a $100 million renovation. This project involved the complete demolition and concurrent redesign of the building’s interior. Capacity was increased by more than 4,000 to a maximum of 19,200 occupancy, plus 72 luxury suites and three exclusive clubs were added.”

I believe over the next few years, the first pick of the draft coincided with a team that was building a new arena or convincing taxpayers of the importance of a new arena. What is the easiest way to generate interest with the fans, media and sponsors? Draft an exciting college player to join the team. Smart move by the NBA execs.

1996 – Philadelphia 76ers – Allen Iverson

Outcome: Hmm…let’s ask: “what year did the Wachovia Center open?” Could it be…1996? How easy was it for the NBA to give the 76ers the first pick so they could draft a player from Georgetown? Fans would fill this new arena to watch a player they had seen regularly in college.

1997 – San Antonio Spurs – Tim Duncan

Outcome: This will pain Celtics fans until the end of time that Boston to not secure this pick. If you were in San Antonio in 1997, people were voting to see if they would pay a sales tax for the new arena. How great would it be if Duncan was able to play in this new arena? Oh, and doesn’t hurt that David Robinson, a role model for the NBA, plays for the Spurs. Wouldn’t it be great if Robinson could take Duncan under his wing to create another basketball superstar? Wow..what a surprise. Duncan is now one of the top players in the game. He plays the game correctly, without a lot of flash. The commissioner’s office must be disappointed with this outcome – not!

2001 – Washington Wizards -- Kwame Brown

Outcome: This was Michael Jordan’s first year as the president of the Wizards. You don’t think the NBA didn’t want one of its greatest players having the opportunity to make the first pick in the draft. I would not be surprised if Jordan didn’t ask the NBA beforehand to make sure this pick was possible before he joined the team. He is so competitive and proud, that I doubt he would accept anything less than the top pick.

2002 – Houston Rockets -- Yao Ming

Outcome: Ming had to go to a community that had a large Asian community. Where else could he have gone – NY or LA. I’m sorry, but it wouldn’t seem right to put him in one of those major media markets when he is trying to learn the game, while also learning a new language and culture. The NBA was smart with how they handled this one. They knew he was going to bring in the sponsors, but they wanted to make sure he developed into a bona fide star.

2003 – Cleveland Cavaliers – LeBron James

Outcome: Right…James grows up in Ohio, the Cavaliers are losing fans left and right and the owner is selling the team. Hmmm…what about having the best rookie in over 15 years play for his home team to generate interest. You could see this pick coming a mile away. If Cleveland had been in the playoffs, I can almost guarantee this pick would have gone to the Knicks.

2005 – Milwaukee Bucks – Andrew Bogut

Outcome: The team was put up for sale in 2004 and I believe it now had new ownership (2005). What a great way to start out on the right foot by getting the first pick in the draft.

2006 – Toronto Raptors – Andrea Bargnani

Outcome: This one may be a stretch, but I am still skeptical. Bryan Colangelo, a former executive of the year, leaves the Phoenix Suns to go jumpstart the Raptors. Now, basketball has never really flourished in Canada – Vancouver left for Memphis. The NBA knows they need to make it work in Canada before they can start developing teams overseas. Now that Colangelo was there, wouldn’t it be great if the Raptors finally got the first pick in the draft. Think about it. They have been awful for years and have always been in the lottery, but never a first round pick.

I may be completely off with this blog, but the NBA knows what they are doing from an “imaging” standpoint. Other than the actual games, all the other decisions (at the commissioner's office level) are reviewed carefully before they are made public.


At 2:12 PM, Blogger Patterson said...

I love conspiracy theories, but don't they televise the lottery on ESPN, and don't they pull the ping pong balls out live? So is Stuart Scott in on the action as well?


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