Friday, May 15, 2009

Cultural Re-branding of the NBA Throughout History

Cultural Re-branding of the NBA Throughout History
By: Kalani Dantley

Throughout the history of sport, one of the most disputed arguments has been what the exact relationship between sport and contemporary society is. While some argue that sport is a “mirror of society,” the reality is that sport is a “product and producer” of society. Instead of viewing sport as a one-way relationship between entities, sports need to be recognized to society as a two-way reinforcing relationship between entities (Schultz, 2009). The NBA has been argued to be the most representatively American of the major sporting leagues, mainly due to the fact that its existence is closely linked to the comprehensive forces that shape contemporary American society. When thinking of the NBA, I believe it is essential to examine the importance of contextual sport criticism in order to look at the history of the NBA as a cultural practice, rather than just thinking of the NBA as a place of personal achievement and entertainment (Schultz, 2009).

Many do not know the history of the NBA and the major improvements it has made compared to when the league was first established. The NBA was perceived negatively and looked at as being too regional, too black, and drug-infested. This goes hand-in-hand with the “image crisis” that occurred due to the high percentage of African American players and the pre-determined views that society had historically been introduced to. Because of these cultural issues, the NBA struggled economically and also politically within its beginning years until Commissioner David Stern made a complete turn-around with the league, picking it up and placing it back on its feet. After dealing with the cultural, economic, and political mishaps that the NBA has witnessed over the past 60 years, it is now an organized, oriented, and experienced entity, which leads to how the national league plays such a big role in not just sport, but in contemporary American society as a whole. Sport has proven to be a culture industry, in that it represents a moneymaking site for the aggregation of capital by manufacturing practices and pleasures for crowds and audiences.

In my opinion, culture plays the biggest role in contemporary society, and also with the NBA. Since 1951 the NBA has evolved so much culturally, and most of this started to occur with the hiring of commissioner David Stern. When the NBA was first established, majority of the teams struggled in making profit and the attendance levels were declining more and more by the year. Throughout time, the NBA culture has struggled with stereotypes attributed to the image crisis of African Americans and their supposed linkage with drugs. The problem with the NBA was that culturally the players were looked at as “selfish, lazy, lacking motivation, irresponsible, and overpaid” (Hughes, 2004). The media tried to use the illusion of drug abuse as evidence of the pathological abandonment of the African American men who prevailed the NBA and the American nation as a whole. David Stern dealt with this by understanding contemporary society as a culture. Stern used these cultural logics, utilizing capitalism, in order to blossom the NBA into the establishment that it is now and “the NBA has re-branded itself as both an institution of racial uplift and an entrepreneur of racial flair, a move that, in practice, has involved the NBA in a somewhat conflicted double role of discipliner and promoter of the race” (Hughes, 2004).

In conclusion, the NBA envisioned the race problem as one imported from outside its own boundaries so that it could be effectively managed. Many people do not always know the details of sport in history and it is important to realize the struggle that African American athletes underwent in the beginning years of the NBA. Lastly, when thinking of the NBA, it is essential to examine the importance of contextual sport criticism in order to critically analyze the history of the NBA as a cultural practice, rather than just thinking of the NBA as a place of personal achievement and entertainment.

Works Cited

Hughes, G. (2004). Managing black guys: Representation, corporate culture, and the
NBA. Sociology of Sport Journal, 21(2), 163-184.
Schultz, J. (2009). The History of Sports in America. University of Maryland, College
Park, MD.

Recommended Readings

Carter, R. (2004). Racial issues front and center in most Black Pro basketball. New York
Amsterdam News. 95(13). 10-32.

Maddox, Jr., Alton H. (2004). Field Blacks ineligible for NBA privileges. New York
Amsterdam News. 95(50). p. 12

An almost impossible dream. (1977, March 30). The Washington Post, p. A20.

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