Friday, June 11, 2010

KG Deserved Better

Nearly three years after Kevin Garnett joined the Celtics, I still find it difficult to watch this short promotional spot and not feel a tear fighting its way through my ducts.

However, beyond the emotional wallop, what are we to make of this video? If, as seems apparent from the branding, the NBA and not the Celtics is the voice behind this advertisement — and thus, if NBA fans en masse, rather than Celtics fans, are the target audience — exactly what value proposition is the league trying to sell me on? Is the league telling me that, as a putative fan of any randomly-selected team, I have hope that a superstar may one day come to my team by trade? Well, that's not credible; in recent years, the big trades of MVP-caliber players have involved Jason Kidd to New Jersey, Shaq to Miami, McGrady to Houston, Garnett to Boston, and Pau Gasol to the Lakers. In other words, talented teams in big cities picked up more talent. A Memphis or Milwaukee fan sees little inspiration from this set of facts.

On the other hand, perhaps the message is "If you follow a highly talented player, rest assured that he will eventually find his way to a winning team." This has generally proved true over the years: Besides the examples above, Bob McAdoo joined the Lakers, Charles Barkley joined Phoenix, and Chris Bosh seems poised to join a contender next month. However, this argument collapses of its own weight. The NBA markets stars. Unlike the other major team sports in the United States, the NBA's players wear no headgear shrouding their features. Jersey sales, ticket prices, and TV ratings are generally driven by the appearance of great players in attractive situations. Dwyane Wade seems far more exciting when flanked by Shaquille O'Neal and Gary Payton than he did in the past couple seasons, when he led Joel Anthony and Mario Chalmers into opposing arenas. The Garnett ad above implicitly admits that the Association failed, for 11 of his 12 Timberwolf seasons (excluding the highly successful 2003-04 Minnesota campaign featuring Cassell, Sprewell, Szczerbiak, though even then the team's aggregate talent was middling), to put Garnett into a situation where he could thrive. Should we now applaud the league for giving us a product that includes Garnett as a winner? That is like thanking BP for cleaning up their oil spill.

And this brings me to the upcoming free-agent signing season. For months and possibly years, fans of mediocre teams such as Chicago, New York, Miami, Oklahoma City [though they have moved past "mediocre" now] Sacramento, Minnesota, Washington and the LA Clippers have anticipated July 2010 as a chance to upgrade their roster's core identity in a single swoop, like Dennis Quaid changing his face in Innerspace. But what if none of the top free agents move? It is conceivable that James, Wade, Nowitzki, Johnson, Stoudemire, Boozer, Lee, Gay, Allen, and McGrady could all remain with their current teams. Already, possible free agents Nash, Bryant, and Ginobili re-signed with their teams before their contracts expired. The only near-certainty seems to be Chris Bosh leaving Toronto. If this stagnancy happens, for many fans it would be a lump of coal at the bottom of a brightly adorned Christmas stocking hung on the chimney with care.

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