“But who are you, really?”
I thought about opening this up by saying something cheesy like “the crossover was inevitable” or “the moment you step out of bounds.” With that being said, these recent times where the term “basketball player” encompasses everything from a 3-point specialist to a tech mogul was kind of foreseeable.
LeBron James and Steph Curry both effectively produce interactive game shows on major TV networks; Josh Hart and Miles Leonard are as deep in the gaming world as anybody with access to an Xbox and $40 to put towards Fortnite.
Andre Iguodala is currently on a book tour and the newest Golden State Warrior and Omari Spellman, is gaining national recognition for an undeniable gift for writing poetry. The list of ballers operating outside of their sport is as long as Pippen’s arms.
Still, I’m not saying this doesn’t happen in other sports but it’s obvious that pro basketball players are leading the charge in activities off the court. It’s as if we’re in a time where being a basketball player comes with the joke “how’s the air up there?” and an “alternative talent?”
As a retired player turned media personality I’m actually exercising mine right now. But how, why and when did the lines become so blurred and is it going to change back anytime soon?
*Jordan Belfort voice* Absolutely f*cking not.
Although I didn’t use the cheesy opening, this crossover into entertainment was inevitable for today’s ballplayer. Basketball spent the bulk of the 60s, 70s, and 80s playing little brother to the already established MLB, NHL, and NFL. The three sports laid their bones during slower-paced times and the foundation for team sports.
Basketball was a fast-paced, almost wiry game that changed faces each play. Players like Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul Jabar made names for themselves off the court by getting involved with cinematography and joining the civil rights movement.
But what truly made the sport takeoff was it’s separating factor from the other three major sports: sneakers.
In the late 70s and early 80s, companies like Converse, Adidas, and Nike saw an opening to not only personalize the sneaker to the team/athlete wearing them but also use their new and rebellious attitude to catapult both entities into a national spotlight.
Year by year, the world watched as the NBA became the epitome of cool in pop culture.
This came about through them latching onto the concept of individualism. Sneaker companies promoted personalized fashion, commercialized collaborations with brands like McDonalds and Pepsi and made relationships with entertainers in music and movies public.
The biggest culprit was Air Jordan, a guy who went from almost taking a one size fits all deal with Adidas, to forcing Nike to give him his own branch of the company.
Jordan went from a guy who was usually quiet and withdrawn to squaring up with the King of Pop and playing the starring role in Space Jam. He’s the same guy whose name itself is a globally recognized brand.
“Shut up and Dribble”
In the late 90s and early 2000s, the NBA went to another level for all the wrong reasons. The influx of freedom and the post-Jordan era spotlight shined on a youthful, yet, ambitious cast of great players with a nose for marketing.
But not for decision making. Shaq starred in Kazaam, Kobe and A.I. dabbled in rap and other NBA players got involved with things like “D-Bands” which were essentially a jockstrap for your head. Not to mention the African diamond mining and real estate. It was just a dark time.
But over the last 20 years, we’ve seen the NBA player mature into a businessman as well as a top-notch athlete by doing things like demanding equity in fashion companies like Russell Westbrook or starting a Venture Capitalist firm like Carmelo Anthony. There’s even James Harden’s multi-million dollar investment in Houston’s MLS team.
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Coupled in with the success of basketball players in the boardroom has been a steady rise in political matters. But what separates today from the days of Bill Russell, being the only black player in the NBA? The Lauren Ingrahams and the “shut up and dribble” monologue.
The controversial rebuttal to KD, LeBron and Cari Champion’s criticism of Donald Trump as the POTUS turned into a Showtime documentary, merchandise and a platform for not only NBA players but all athletes to stand on and voice their opinion.
Things aren’t going back to the way they were. The lines between basketball, business, and entertainment are now more blurred than ever and it’s making for some of the best content ever but also, the biggest cultural shift we’ve seen in a while.
*Ye Shrug* I’m a fan.