Stray Thoughts: The Future of the NBA is International, It’s Time To Accept it

Lately, I’ve been learning to edit myself. Not only slicing off some of the chunky fat off of my writing, or just tweaking some grammatical inconsistencies or misused semicolons—despite studying the English language for years (I didn’t say successfully!). Sometimes, it’s allowing narratives to congeal organically, and assessing when it’s appropriate to use your individualized perspective to narrate what you see so that others can see it too. To me at least, it’s been easy to do that for the NBA, a league universally understood to be a mélange of personalities and skill sets, the majority of which is represented by North America’s share of the global black diaspora. The number one thing I admire most about the NBA, besides the game itself, is the way it acts as a microcosm of its larger, sociological, political and economic surroundings. Whether it be third wave feminism affecting league hiring practices as well as the promotion of the WNBA, African American social justice impacting league discourse, or a global pandemic forcing the Association to invest into new testing measures and an isolated, hugely successful location for operations to occur—this league has a way of being a reflection of many wider global on goings.  

Despite said bottomless pit of historical content—an archivist’s dream, the NBA’s marketing and narrative construction has been… kind of exposed as dated and inadequate in properly positioning itself as inventive, rather than reactive. It goes beyond placating the masses with slogans on jerseys, devoid of any input from authentic, grassroots, non-corporate organizers and it goes beyond orange sweatshirts promoting its femme league. The next step for the NBA should be to shed itself of American exceptionalism, and to wholeheartedly embrace the trends of globalization.  

The exceptionalism rears its head in ways that aren’t always immediately identifiable, but the easiest to inference would be the stereotypical ways in which players are organized. European players are pigeonholed as ‘soft’, with their oversea dominance considered non transferable, regardless of the repeated evidence saying otherwise as seen with Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic. African players are said to lack skills, immediately placed into roles that require energy and dirty work with almost a non-existent effort to develop them as projects handed heavy responsibility. When nurtured for their potential, we’ve seen skillful talents emerge in African stars, time and time again. It’s perplexing to me that an industry with income fueled by star power, performance, voluntary viewership, attendance and merchandise sale is so reluctant to experiment and embrace the direction of an international scene breakout. Why is the NBA so hesitant to center their international talents more? There would certainly be an audience for it, in a continent characterized as a melting pot of non-indigenous people, finding themselves on the shores of the nation throughout the centuries. All it would potentially do is enrich discourse, deepen historical impact and scale, and introduce NBA basketball to millions more people. Entire continents are waiting to throw their weight behind non American representation. There will come a time where their biggest headliner of the last almost-two-decades, all-American Lebron James, either succumbs to age or retires all together. What will the league do? Christen another red white and blue star, forfeiting to the ever-present downward trends in audience size within the country, or globalize the game and extend its reach throughout the planet?

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