By Trevor Jackson
Marcus Damas, who runs Fueled by Culture, a marketing and branding company, said, “The world is fueled by the culture that we create.” Jay Z, the best and most influential rapper of all time, said in his recent interview with Elliot Wilson of Tidal’s Rap Radar that, “We are culture, nothing moves without us but we continue to give it away.” These quotes provide insight into what makes the NBA unique among American sports.
The NBA is a bi-product of popular culture—African American culture. Superstars—predominantly African-American or other minorities—rule the sport. Without them, the NBA does not exist. More than any other sport in America, a large part of the fan base—especially the younger demographic—identifies with players as opposed to teams. Fans switch their allegiance as soon as their favorite players get traded or sign elsewhere.
The NBA and major shoe companies profit from the culture more than the sport. The NBA markets itself on its cool cachet. Why else would the league allow players to express themselves so freely? When superstars sat out during nationally televised games, the great commissioner Adam Silver changed the schedule to provide more rest for his cash cows. If they don’t sit, you sell more tickets. Simple.
If you don’t believe that popular culture—African-American culture—drives the NBA and most other major corporations, check out the commercials during NBA telecasts. The NBA 2K trailer is scored with Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones.” Sprite commercials feature LeBron James, Vince Staples, and Lil Yachty. Chance the Rapper promotes Kit-Kat bars.
This leads to the question: When will the superstars of the NBA secede from the league and create their own entity? The NBA non-stop storyline dominates all professional American sports. Forget the entertainment value of the games. One player demands a trade. Another one opts out of a contract. Player X despises Player Y. The beat goes on. Like Jay Z said in his Rap Radar interview “F**k the thing.” The “thing” being the big corporations that appropriate culture–the blood-sucking vultures that leave you dry.
Like any other big corporation, the NBA means nothing. The stars matter. We don’t need businessmen and women bottling the culture and selling it. Those who say, “They get paid millions of dollars to play a game” miss the point. Why should the driving force of the entity make millions when they can make billions?
LaVar Ball understands this. When you look past his antics, he wants one thing: for his sons to get paid according to their worth. Nike, Adidas, or any other brand won’t do that. If Nike pays LeBron James a billion dollars in a lifetime deal, how much do they expect to make in return? The answer is scary.
The team names on the jerseys, the logos on the shoes, and the big endorsement deals mean nothing without the players, who are deeply rooted in a culture they created and continue to mold. The “thing” Jay-Z discusses in his interview with Tidal’s Rap Radar is truly an illusion. NBA players and other African-American athletes, entertainers, and influencers need to understand that they are the culture … not the “thing.” Own it!