The NBA's French Savior

Dan E. LoveContributor IMay 12, 2008

Back in the 1980s and ‘90s, the NBA decided to alter the way the league was marketed, shifting from a team-oriented presentation of the league to the star-driven product we see today.  It turned out to be a great move, because the league had the likes of megastars Larry Bird, Ervin “Magic” Johnson and Michael Jordan.  Under this plan, the league flourished.

The NBA was in the convenient position of having its biggest stars on its best teams in some of America’s biggest media markets.  The league cashed in big time. 

However, as the league, and the way the game was played changed, NBA marketing failed to adapt.  With the exception of the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, the number of megastars on mega-teams in mega-markets dwindled to a number right around zero. 

Allen Iverson was too “gangsta,” to be sold to mainstream White America.  Vince Carter was a flash in the pan stuck playing in Canada.  Kobe and Shaq morphed into bickering school girls.  Kevin Garnett and Tracy McGrady never won anything,  and nobody else in the league was truly worth our time.

Then, along came Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs.  Suddenly, the NBA became casualties to their own methodology.  The best team in the league was led by a superstar who is about as flamboyant as a bowl of chicken noodle soup, while playing in a city that 90% of basketball fans could not locate on a map. 

Stuck in the ‘90s, the NBA continued to shove individual talents down our throats instead of shifting gears and highlighting the best teams in the league (San Antonio, Dallas, Phoenix, etc.).  The Association got lucky two seasons ago, when Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal took Miami to the Promised Land.  However at this point, even that Finals result seems like an aberration. 

LeBron’s Cavs are not, and may never be, quite ready to make the leap.  Wade’s Heat are already on the decline, sitting near the bottom of the standings.  Chris Paul plays in New Orleans on a team that wears teal.  KG’s Celtics are old, and Carmelo Anthony is quickly becoming Iverson-like in that he has more urban street cred’ than mainstream appeal. 

All the while, the starless San Antonio Spurs keep on winning. 

By the way, the Spurs aren’t going anywhere anytime soon (even if they fall this season), with only Kobe’s suddenly resurgent Lakers as the only legitimate consistent threat to the Silver and Black Dynasty.      

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however. 

Well, only if the NBA marketing team chooses to walk into that light. 

Many shuddered in horror at the idea of a Frenchman winning the NBA Finals MVP, but Tony Parker: 2007 NBA Finals MVP may be the best scenario possible for the National Basketball Association. 

Believe it or not, Tony Parker-Longoria is the biggest star on the Spurs roster.  No, seriously.  Tim Duncan is, by far, the Spurs’ best player, but Duncan is about as marketable as Swiss cheese.  People don’t love Timmy, they don’t hate Timmy, they just don’t care about Timmy. 

Manu Ginobili is simply annoying and his bald spot is amazingly off-putting.  Parker, on the other hand, has the look, has the engaging personality.  He has the awkward Subway commercials, the hot Hollywood trophy wife, the hilarious (but surprisingly not gawd-awful) rap album, and most importantly, Tony P. has the game to be a HUGE star. 

In fact, if Parker grew up in Paris, New York and not Paris, France this would have happened already.  Well, it is not too late to make Tony Parker a star.  In last year’s playoffs, those who chose to pay attention saw Parker establish himself as quite possibly the most unguardable player in the league (prior to Chris Paul grabbing that title this season.)  To the surprise of many, TP is still a week away from his 26th  birthday. 

We often forget this because when Parker came out of nowhere and struggled to take the reigns of the impending Spurs dynasty, he did so at age 19.  This was quickly forgotten, partly because he was so successful at such a young age, partly because honestly, nobody cared, and partly because the Spurs almost gave up on young Tony in favor of Jason Kidd following their 2003 Championship season. 

After watching Kidd this season, it appears that San Antonio made the right choice.  Parker has come into his own as a blossoming star, and it is now clear that Parker has the potential to become one of the all-time greats at point guard—right up there with names like Isaiah, Kidd and Nash—and a true asset to the NBA and the league’s increasing focus on globalization. 

NBA fans should hope that the league realizes what they have in last year’s Finals MVP.  The NBA should place Parker, not Tim Duncan or Manu Ginobili, in NBA-sponsored TV ads.  Nike should capitalize and market Tony Parker as a Derek Jeter-esque “true winner.”  Tony Parker should be selling cars, cell phones, croissants, anything and everything. 

They can even give Parker a hip nickname.  “Le Blur” has a nice ring to it.  Black and silver #9 jerseys should be worn by children all over the world, and the hot Euro-beats of “Balance Toi” should resonate from speakers everywhere.  These should be the visions racing through NBA PR guys’ heads. 

Is it a crazy vision?  Maybe.  Desperate would probably be a better word. 

Nevertheless, true NBA fans look forward to Spurs games, mainly because they enjoy watching Tony Parker play the game of basketball.  If the casual fan cared to notice, they almost certainly would, as well. 

It may possibly seem a tad manufactured, but if marketed properly, Tony P. (Le Blur) could develop into one of the league’s biggest stars playing for one of the NBA’s best teams.  Until then, the average basketball fan will continue their indifference towards the 4-time World Champions.