Thursday, September 6, 2007

Will New Starbury Big Ben Hold Up?

You got a taste in the latest issue of Kicks, but here's a better look at the Big Ben, Ben Wallace's signature shoe for the 2007-08 NBA season. As with all the Starbury on-court kicks, the Big Ben's will cost $14.98 and will be sold exclusively at Steve & Barry's. It drops at the start of the NBA season -- the only colorway missing here is the black/black. From my perspective, the issue will be whether Starbury's $14.98 sneakers can get respect on the court. While sales numbers of the I and II are rumored to be in the range of 1-2 million pairs sold, people seem pretty divided between the "you get what you pay for" camp and the "if these had a jumpman logo on the side, everyone would love them" camp. But a product that polarizes means the people care -- and that's half the battle in the sneaker industry. Does the Big Ben extension to the Starbury line inspire? Does it add performance authenticity to the Starbury brand? Will the sneaker industry respond with other hoops shoes priced below $30? Are other brands missing out?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Is the NBA Betting on Sin City?

The NBA seems to be intent on operating a high wire act while it faces down the worst credibility crisis in American sports since the Chicago Black Sox. With the Tim Donaghy story still fresh in people's minds, it was interesting to see the reports that Harrah's casino has announced plans to build an NBA-ready arena / casino complex -- making it the second pro sports venue construction project to be announced recently. Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman is a part of a separate $8.1 billion project from the Michigan-based REI Group LLC that hopes to put an arena in downtown thanks to tax breaks.

While the NBA has not commented on the situation since the Donaghy betting broke, that doesn't mean that the League is ruling out Vegas as a home for a franchise. Henry Abbott at True Hoop points out:

Two arenas that could hold an NBA team in Las Vegas? These are smart business people making massive financial gambles. You'd have to believe the people paying the bills for all this construction (if both plans really go ahead) believe, based on something, that there's a good chance the NBA is coming to town. I'm not buying that the NHL, boxing, and concerts support two arenas. Maybe in Las Vegas, but it seems unlikely.

Without any inside knowledge of either deal, Abbott's logic makes sense to me. But how could the NBA, with the Donaghy gambling scandal still in its early stages, still be considering Las Vegas as a home when it is so irrevocably tied to the gambling industry?

On, Sam Smith, the longtime NBA columnist, claims that the Donaghy scandal has killed any chance that the NBA will be back in Vegas for a long time to come. "The NBA is not coming to Las Vegas. Not soon and probably never...Now, [a franchise in Vegas] seems ridiculous, especially in light of the referee gambling scandal that has the NBA’s entire credibility at stake."

I hope Smith is right, but it's clear that with two multi-billion dollar arena projects moving forward, this issue is not going away any time soon. So what gives? The NBA has reacted to the betting scandal by naming of a former federal prosecutor to head a review of its referees and Stern has talked about reviewing process and implementing procedures. Yet its flirtations with Sin City on the side hint at a colder reality that despite Stern's wishes, the League can't say no to Vegas. The 2007 All Star Game served as a coming out party for the NBA and Sin City's intimate relationship. The Vegas Summer league has become the top summer-ball destination for teams and established players looking to work out. USA Basketball has held training sessions and hosted the Fiba Tournament of the Americas there the past two years. Clearly, Vegas is a place in which the NBA has grown comfortable setting up operations.

The League needs to start saying no to Vegas. Publicly. This is a credibility test and Stern's talk about analyzing process and implementing procedures are only a part of what needs to take place to get this long-time NBA fan believing that the League stands for more than the riches that Vegas has to offer.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Barack Obama and the Art of the Finger Roll

Barak Obama's basketball skills have gotten some coverage recently after a NY Times article shined light on his love for playground ball. This morning I came across a blog post at the Sports Review Magazine quoting a former coach of Obama as saying the slim 6'3" lefty guard was "a George Gervin-type" player who led Occidental College in scoring in 1979. Hmmm, sounds like it's time to set the record straight.

As an alumnus of Occidental and an unabashed fan of Obama's, I had never heard that he was the team's leading scorer. In fact, in "Dreams From My Father" he doesn't mention playing basketball at Oxy at all. I emailed Oxy's head basketball coach, Brian Newhall, who was a freshman at Oxy in 1979 - so he overlapped "Barry" for that one year. Coach Newhall said that Obama never played varsity basketball at Oxy. "My recollection is that Barry played in open gym pre-season pick up games and then chose not to continue. Various stories have been floating around. My memory is bad, but I do not remember him playing on our JV team."

I also heard from Oxy's Sports Information Director who said that no records exist linking Obama to the Occidental basketball team.

That settles that. No love lost here, though. Since leaving Occidental, Obama has balled everywhere from a prison in Massachusetts to army bases in the Middle East to Chicago's South Side to high-priced health clubs. If he can just come up with a coherent Middle East strategy, solve the health care crisis and balance the Fed's books then he'll prove himself to be the most well-rounded baller in the history of the game.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Links: NBA in Europe; AND 1 in Chicago; New Nash Ad...

  • The Wall Street Journal published an article last Friday about how some major US sponsors are lining up behind the NBA's Europe Live Tour, which takes place in October and hits several major cities around Europe. Coca Cola, KFC and EA Sports are the main partners (there are 20 total). These brands signed on with the NBA's Tour because they believe American basketball is a key to the hearts of a core target demographic, teenage males. With teens spending less time watching TV and consuming traditional forms of media, brands are looking for ways to be connected to the activities that their consumers are interested in. According to an NBA spokesman, sponsorship dollars for the NBA's Tour has increased 25% over last year. However, my sources in Europe have told me that the NBA left several markets in Germany and Russia feeling burned last year after they ponied up seven figure licensing fees to host the games only to see their efforts to recoup their money through local sponsorships fail completely in part because the NBA had tough restrictions on which categories their local sponsors could come from. That could be one reason that the only city the NBA is returning to from its 2006 Tour is Rome, Italy (whose mayor, Walter Veltroni, is a basketball fanatic), while it will not be going back to Paris, Moscow or Barcelona.

  • Here's a nice write-up on the re-formatted AND 1 Mix Tape Tour, which recently stopped in Chicago. AND 1 games are taking place outside this summer and the team personnel has been updated. The TV Show, "Streetball: The AND 1 Mix Tape Tour" is back on ESPN2 this summer with new episodes airing on Monday nights at 10:30.

  • Finally, Steve Nash is starring in a new campaign that will make me forget about those awful Raymond Weil (watches) print ads he did. Nash is headlining the campaign for Nike's new Zoom shoe, featuring the tag "Quick is Deadly." The shoe, which is in stores at $110, is double-lasted and apparently very light. It's pretty high too. has video of Nash doing drills, discussing their importance, etc. I'm glad Nash is back doing ads and the lightweight selling point will work, but the site reminds me a little bit of "Better Basketball" to be honest.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Second Life: A Dead End for Marketers

Ever since Business Week magazine proclaimed the virtual world Second Life to be the next big thing on the web, major brands have lined up to pour marketing dollars towards building their brands there. Over 50 major companies, from blue chip firms like the NBA and Coca Cola to cool hunters like Scion and American Apparel, took the plunge developing stores, arenas, etc hoping to avoid missing out on what might be the next MySpace. Looks like Second Life may nothing more than a web bubble about to burst when it comes to online marketing, however. Wired magazine, the authority on all-things tech, came out with a scathing article in its most recent issue.

While web2.0 sites like Youtube, Facebook, and Digg are undeniably blazing a trail with their growing user-base and easy-to-use social media tools, Second Life can't seem to get anyone beyond its core group to participate. Apparently, the vast majority of Second Life looks like a deserted wasteland. Not exactly something most brands are looking to associate with.

The Wired article is actually only the latest media outlet to have turned its back on Second Life. In July, the LA Times wrote about how many marketers are not satisfied with their experience. Back in January, Valleywag called Second Life's economy a pyramid scheme.

Two AND 1 Clubs to Compete in NBA Europe Live 2007

AND 1 will be well represented in Europe when the NBA arrives for its pre-season tour. AND 1-sponsored clubs Efes Pilsen Istanbul and Estudiantes Madrid will be taking on the Minnesota Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies on October 6th and 11th, respectively. Here is the complete schedule, which includes some other very interesting games, including the Celtics and Timberwolves facing off in London; the Spanish-led Memphis Grizzlies playing a series of games against Spanish clubs; and Maurizio Gherardini's Toronto Raptors returning to Italy where they will play the Celtics and Lottomatica Roma, which is now being run by GM Dejan Bodiroga.

Even though the AND 1 Mix Tape Tour is going to be touching down for 4 games in Budapest, Serbia, Novi Sad and Sofia from October 3-10, I'm going to try not to miss Efes and Estu try to be the latest European clubs to knock off an NBA team in the preseason. Last year, CSKA dropped the Clippers and Barcelona knocked off the Sixers in pre-season action. Two years ago, Toronto needed the refs to bail them out in the closing seconds of an 86-83 win over an Andrea Bargnani-led Benetton Treviso team.

A Forgettable Summer for USA Basketball?

While out at a nightclub in Belgrade, Serbia a couple of weeks ago I couldn't help but notice half of the Serbian Men’s national basketball team partying together in the VIP section. There was no misconduct, no excessive drinking (most of the guys were sipping Red Bull) -- just a group of guys that included NBA players Darko Milicic and Marko Jaric dancing and having a good time together in the Serbian capital. The Serbians did have something to celebrate too: their U16, U18, U19 and U20 teams swept the European and World Championships this summer in their respective divisions.

So what about USA Basketball?

It almost didn’t make sense when I read this headline from a USA Basketball press release a few weeks ago: “USA Men Surprise Argentina 74-71 at Pan American Games”. I know things have gone sideways for USA Basketball in recent FIBA tournaments. I know that Argentina is the defending Olympic champ. But since when is the US national basketball team an underdog, especially against an Argentina team that didn't have a single full-time member of their real national squad? Considering that the USA entry in this summer’s Pan American Games finished in fifth place, that day has arrived.

How bad has this summer been for USA Basketball? Probably the worst in its history. The US didn’t win a medal at the Pan Am Games for the first time ever. (2003 was the first time ever they didn’t win the gold.) In July, at the U19 World Championships in Novi Sad, Serbia the US lost in the final to Serbia. It’s hard to complain about losing a close game in the final but the bottom line is that the US hasn’t won a gold medal on the world stage (excluding qualifying tournaments) at any age group since the FIBA U21 2001 World Championships. That's six years. The Senior Men’s Team hasn’t won gold since the 2000 Olympics.

Has USA Basketball hit rock bottom? Does anyone even care? Media in other basketball-loving countries like Serbia treat disappointing results as national catastrophe. The federation, coaches and players are all dragged over the coals for their failures. In the US, when our national team loses, we come up with increasingly lame excuses. In 2002, it was that we didn’t have Shaq. In 2004 and 2006, the team was an all-star lineup void of outside shooters and role players. This summer, following the US’ failure in the Pan Am games, Andy Katz argued that the reason Jay Wright’s US team lost is that Wright didn’t play Wash St. guard Derick Low enough. I like Derrick Low as a player, but we’re holding him up as the reason for a fifth place finish? What about the fact that USA Basketball gave them only two weeks of preparation and not a single scrimmage before the games began. Seems like the college recruiting meat market and summer sneaker camps have precedent over Team USA. How messed up is that?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Telfair Not Listed Among European Signings

The Euroleague and ULEB Cup have been tracking player signings on their websites and so far the biggest surprise is that Sebastian Telfair's name has not been included among the signings. Below I've listed some of the more interesting signings, for the complete list go here. I'll leave it to you to look through the ULEB Cup signings since there are now 6,000 teams participating in the Cup and aside from a handful of quality teams (Benetton, Dynamo Moscow, Pamesa Valencia, Joventut, Pau Orthez, Hemofarm, Red Star and Girona) there's just too much clutter there for me. Here are some hightlights:
  • Allen Ray to Roma after signing a 2-yr deal.
  • CSKA Moscow reuniting former Benetton players Nikos Zizis, Marcus Goree and Ramunas Siskauskas with coach Messina while letting go of David Vanterpool, Tomas Van Den Spiegel and Oscar Torres.
  • Theo Papaloukas, despite serious interest from multiple NBA teams, resigned with CSKA at $4m annually (!) for each of the next three seasons
  • Ersan Ilyasova is back in Europe with Barcelona
  • Bootsy Thornton is returning to Siena
  • Qyntel Woods signed with Olympiacos
  • Loren Woods will play for coach Blatt at Efes Pilsen in Istanbul