Anyone who grew up following the NBA in the 60s and 70s barely recognizes today’s edition. A league that once had its championship games shown on tape-delay and didn’t even have regular season contests televised until late in the season is now a major part of the celebrity entertainment culture. A new television deal next season is expected to add even more billions of dollars to its coffers, and the league has a global presence in addition to its own 24/7 network, and team deals with a host of cable networks in various cities. Expansion franchises are coming soon in Las Vegas and Seattle, and those fees will also be quite high.
But there are drawbacks to being a part of the nonstop entertainment cycle. Incidents that once might have barely gotten a reaction are now blown up on social media websites, made the fodder of entertainment networks and gossip columns, and generally gotten the league both extensive attention and often unwanted exposure.
With the season about to start, the NBA has seen a pair of regrettable events turned into sensational news stories and consistent examination. The first was the Une Udoka situation, which is still being widely discussed and debated Udoma, last year the toast of the league when he took the Celtics to the NBA Finals, was suspended for the season following a series of events that saw the Celtics release the information that he had been involved in a consensual affair and was in violation of team rules.
Whether that’s true or not, and many don’t think that’s either all or the primary reason for the suspension, the fact that this became public knowledge and the fuel for multiple news stories, editorials and website speculation isn’t something that either the Celtics or the NBA wanted to have happen. The Celtics also put several of their women employees under the gun by choosing to call it a consensual affair, but only suspending Udoka. Several commentators, all of them men, have asked how fair can that be and why isn’t the woman being disciplined? Several women commentators have viewed that as blaming the victim. Had the Celtics simply chosen to issue a blanket statement saying Udoka was being disciplined, little of this would have resulted.
A couple of days ago, this was followed by Draymond Green of the Warriors punching his teammate Jordan Poole in a dispute. What caused the dispute remains in question, but the Warriors acknowledged in a statement that Green had punched Poole. What they didn’t anticipate was a video of the incident being leaked to TMZ and quickly going viral.
As a result of that, Green announced over the weekend he was taking some time away from the team. The Warriors haven’t taken any formal disciplinary action, but they have launched an investigation of how TMZ got its hands on the video (which had to come from someone inside the team).
An underlying cause of this is the tension being felt by both Poole and Green over their futures with the Warriors. Poole wants an extension on his rookie contract, while Green also wants an extension and has publicly acknowledged that it’s unlikely he and the Warriors will reach an agreement this season. Whether that is connected to what happened, no one knows.
But what is known is that in today’s environment, the NBA has become a hot take/hot gossip entity, something that no one could have predicted back in the days of Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is also something yet to be fully determined, but one thing is clear: the kind of focus that resulted in these incidents becoming so publicized and scrutinized is only going to increase in the days and months ahead.