On Nov. 1, the National Basketball Association began its 50th season. Throughout its history, the NBA has gone through ups and downs, name changes, and extensive expansion. However, the NBA and its fans have the satisfaction that through it all, it now sits at the top of the sports world.
The NBA's current dominance can be attributed to four main factors.
The first of these factors is David Stern. In 1984, when Stern took over as the commissioner of the NBA, the organization was dying. Its popularity was ranked far behind baseball and football, and the game lacked the excitement and fervor that it carries with it now.
Then came in Stern, the marketing expert. Stern has transformed the NBA into a marketing dynamo, and his financial and marketing success is truly remarkable. Stern has also targeted the international market by having exhibition games played throughout the world and through the creative marketing of the various Dream Teams.
Recently, in commemoration of its 50th Anniversary, the NBA released a list of what it believes to be its fifty best players of all time. The list has caused a great stir in the sports world, sparking at least four different television programs devoted entirely to the players on the list.
The great amount of publicity that the list received is a great example of Stern's marketing genius. The NBA is plastered everywhere, from billboards, to radio, to television; which leads us to the second factor, the emergence of mass media in sports.
Television has taken basketball farther than it has any other sport. Advertisements featuring professional basketball players can be seen all throughout the world.
The use of basketball players in these advertisements has become so embedded in popular culture, that one doesn't really think about why so many of these commercials focus on basketball players over athletes from other sports.
A major part of the reasoning comes from my final two factors. The first of these is the introduction of a new style of play. Athletes are constantly shown dunking, blocking or producing fantastic, unbelievable shots. The game has transformed itself to be played above the rim.
The NBA has tried to capitalize on the new fast-paced style of play by trying to maintain a focus on offensive production. The constant nearing of the three-point line provides an added exciting element to the game, and a majority of the rules added in the past ten years or so gear towards the offense.
However, the last, and in my mind, probably the most important factor is the introduction of dynamic, new players to the game.
David Stern took on the role of commissioner the same year that the games greatest player, Michael Jordan turned pro. He inherited a league that already had Magic and Larry and Kareem. Since their respective retirements, players like Shaq, Penny, Scottie and many others have come along to fill the void.
The league is also guaranteed that a new influx of these players will be available because basketball now reigns supreme over the other playground games. Exciting players like Kobe Bryant will always be available for the NBA, and thus the NBA will constantly flourish.
These four factors are not independent of each other though. All of Stern's marketing ploys would not have worked at all had there not been a Michael or a Magic. Conversely, Michael and Magic would just be plain old basketball players had not the mass media turned them into childhood legends and heroes.
Whatever the reasoning, the NBA stands at the top of the sports spectrum, and the way things are looking, it will be there for a long time.