Jeremy Siegel: This is GBH’s Morning Edition. Tomorrow night at the Garden, the Celtics host the Brooklyn Nets for their first round of the NBA in-season tournament. The tournament is an entirely new event that the NBA’s never done before. And to learn more about how it works and why the league is doing this, my co-host, Paris Alston, spoke with sports journalist and B.U. lecturer Sherrod Blakely.
Paris Alston: A few weeks ago, the league put out this casino heist style promotional video. It features several stars like Anthony Davis, Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard.
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Alston: Okay. So they’ve got a lot going on here, right? It’s like, first of all, it’s a season within a season or something. There’s all these flashy new, like, video-game looking courts. And then of course, there’s this ad where they’re trying to steal the NBA Cup. So my question is, what in the world is going on here?
Sherrod Blakely: Well the NBA, I give them credit for trying to play the role of visionary. They understand that their product, while it is very successful, it needs a little bit of upgrading. And so what they’re doing is they’re taking a look at what’s happening in Europe. And they look at European soccer and they look at European basketball and they see the in-season tournaments that they have and they look at the numbers that those generate and the interest that that generates. And they’re trying to basically start their own from scratch. And for them, you know, if you’re going to do something like what they’re doing, which is have this in-season tournament, you want to build it towards a location or a centralized region, that one, will attract people and two, might potentially be a place that, you know what? Maybe we want to set up shop here at some point. Which is no surprise when you look at that commercial, you know where they’re going with this. They’re going to Vegas.
Alston: Vegas, baby.
Blakely: Exactly. But the biggest thing that they’re looking to do, the NBA, is to galvanize on the fact that they are good, but they know they can be better. And it doesn’t hurt that you’re doing this at a time when fan apathy, I think, is on the rise because a lot of players and a lot of teams are having their players sit out games for load management, is the term that they like to call it. And that’s not good when you spend $700, $800, $900 bucks to go to L.A. for Christmas and you’re going to see LeBron James, and then you find out when you get there, he’s not playing.
Alston: Ok no, because if I’m paying that much, I want to see LeBron James.
Blakely: Exactly. And so this is a way for the league to have players more energized and galvanized during the season with something at stake. And for fans, it gives them something a little bit more to look forward to during the regular season. And as you mentioned, those video game courts — I was wondering how are they going to distinguish a regular season, typical game versus these group play games? And the court is the way they’re doing it. And you, as you can imagine, have mixed results for that. You know, some of the folks, for example, Boston Celtics fans, they love the parquet. And when they see the court, they’re going to say, yeah, it really is different here because it will not be the traditional parquet. So there’s going to be a lot of growing pains with this thing, obviously. But at the end of the day, the NBA understands that this is probably the best route for them to really both kind of be able to fortify the fan base that they have and potentially grow it outwards.
Alston: You know, I’m curious about what’s in this for the players. Right? I read a quote from the Celtics’ Jaylen Brown, who was saying, you know, obviously there’s more money on the table. It’s an opportunity for revenue, not only for the players, but the league itself. But are all of them on board with this? Are they buying into how the NBA is hyping this up?
Blakely: No, no, not even. In fact, that the ones who are, you know, trying to play Mr. Diplomat, which Jaylen Brown is extremely good at, they’re trying to be guardedly optimistic about how this is going to play. Now, the players are going to get about half a million dollars, which if you really start looking at the math — and I’m glad Jaylen Brown was who you brought up because I actually crunched the numbers. When I looked at Jaylen Brown’s most recent contract, it was worth more than $300 million. And I look at the $500,000 that players are going to get, it’s like less than 1% of what he’s going to earn. So for Jaylen Brown, this is not, I can’t even call it lunch money. This is more like snack money for him. But if you start looking at the roster and looking at the roster of NBA teams, the further down the pipeline you go, the more you realize that someone is going to potentially double their salary by being part of the winning team. So from an economic standpoint, this I think addresses to some extent some of the middle class to lower class, which is crazy, talking about NBA salaries. There are guys at the back end of the truck who will benefit greatly from this. And for the players like Jaylen Brown, it’s just another opportunity for you to potentially expand your brand.
Alston: With that, Sherrod, I mean, we know that the C’s are one of, if not the greatest, team in the NBA right now. We know that Boston Celtics fans would certainly attest to that. How do we expect them to perform in this in-season tournament?
Blakely: I expect them to be the last team standing. Teams that have multiple superstars, I think those teams are going to do really well. And the big picture, everyone is going to win if you have top tier, high profile major markets in that championship game.
Siegel: That was my co-host, Paris Alston, speaking with sports journalist and Boston University lecturer Sherrod Blakely. You’re listening to GBH’s Morning Edition.