How the NBA's Young Stars Are Saving the Image of the League

John Friel@@JohnFtheheatgodAnalyst ISeptember 23, 2012

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - JUNE 12:  Kevin Durant #35 and Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder sits on the scorer's table in the fourth quarter while taking on the Miami Heat in Game One of the 2012 NBA Finals at Chesapeake Energy Arena on June 12, 2012 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Remember when this team existed?

Appropriately known as the Portland "Jail Blazers," their roster was chock full of players who preferred to damage their image, instead of attempting to be a positive role model through their positions as athletes who are watched by millions any given night.

Between 2000 and 2003, Ruben Patterson became a sex offender and Rasheed Wallace, Damon Stoudamire and Qyntel Woods all were caught with marijuana. It only got uglier, as Woods was fighting dogs in his house, teammates fought during practice and Bonzi Wells told the fans of the prestigious franchise that "they don't matter."

It takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch. Sure enough, this team gave the league a black eye. These professional sports leagues are supposed to be maintained as if they were businesses, yet there were employees from a branch in Portland that were alienating fans, getting into fights and causing havoc off the court.

Guys like Rasheed Wallace and Damon Stoudamire weren't given lucrative contracts from their employer to simply play basketball. They were given the job because they were believed and trusted to be able to conduct themselves in a professional manner. They aren't just basketball players, they are representatives of basketball being played by the world's greatest at the highest level.

This doesn't just apply to those Portland teams. It also applies to the players who instigate fights, give up on their team, take advantage of their power and all of those who do nothing other than perpetuate a bad image. When it comes to running a business, it's the employees who are supposed to make the gears work and do so without a poor attitude. 

Up until the past few years, the NBA had always received a bad rap.

Players were constantly getting into trouble over the offseason, especially with possession of that green substance all the kids are using these days. While it may be a minor offense to some, it's not to a professional sports league that generates an absurd amount of money and has 30 locations in the United States and Canada.

As much criticism as David Stern receives, he's done well at giving the NBA a better image over the past decade.

He instituted a dress code that prevented people like Allen Iverson from wearing this on the sideline and became a lot firmer on fighting, creating long-term suspensions for those who instigated and took part. We haven't seen a brawl since the melee between New York and Denver.

Yes, attire does matter in the business world. If I own a moving company, am I going to send employees who are wearing sagging jeans and oversized shirts or am I going to send employees wearing uniforms that represent the company? If you want repeat customers, you give your employees appropriate attire to show that your company is legitimate and takes pride in its work.

The NBA can't get away with negative actions like the NFL can.

It's not just because the NFL's following is immeasurable and still growing but also because there are a lot more players who aren't willing to put their lives on the line for bad judgment. Money has to be passed around amongst 53 players on active rosters, so there isn't room for role players to receive lucrative deals.

The NBA allows guys like Kwame Brown to make $7 million per year, so players are more prone to putting their images at risk since they're already receiving enough money to retire. Because there are only 15 players on every active roster, money can be passed around more frivolously and guys who don't play much get paid more than they deserve.

However, there are saviors in the forms of lanky small forwards wearing eyeglasses without lenses and humble MVP winners.

As far as staying out of the tabloids go, the NBA's newest generation of stars has done an immaculate job at keeping their images squeaky clean and only being known for their performances on the court. Guys like Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose come off as harmless, doing nothing other than playing basketball the way it's supposed to be played and being humble in the process.

They are creating a new image for the league—an image that doesn't involve entire teams being generalized because of their rosters' arrest records or the NBA's biggest stars being at the center of appalling controversies. They've learned from those who have wronged in the past, and they realize that they have an image to maintain.

Of course there are exceptions, but they're not causing havoc amongst the league's higher powers.

No, they're keeping the public's eyes solely on the game. Outside of the lockout, there hasn't been a great deal of controversy surrounding this league, and it's because the young players are learning from the mistakes of those who have damaged their reputations. In a day and age when a picture could destroy your image, the new generation has learned not to allow their legacy to become sullied because of one simple misjudgment.

The mainstream media is constantly on the lookout for ratings gold, and young players aren't about to provide them with negativity that could affect their legacy. They've seen how LeBron James had his name dragged through the mud, and they saw that not even being the best player in the world could spare you from the cruel chants of a city you were accused of rape in.

No, with potential future MVPs in Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, the NBA is in good hands.

There are better storylines surrounding the future duels between Durant and James, the comeback of Rose and the emergence of players like Irving or Anthony Davis for these young players to start risking their images with the evils that come with the new life they live.

It takes one wrong move for a career to be ruined, and these current and future superstars aren't willing to risk their careers after what they have seen from the what-could-have-beens.