By JOHN WYATT – STAFF WRITER
Walk into any local Hibbet’s Sports store or any similar sporting goods store, and go look at the jersey section. Chances are that most stocked NBA jerseys will be in youth sizes. The National Basketball Association (NBA) dominates the youth market, attracting more and more young fans as stars like Lebron James and Kobe Bryant take control of the game. But why?
If you ask someone who did not follow sports regularly to name the best basketball player right now, chances are they would at least say “Lebron” or “Kobe” (or maybe even Jordan).
The NBA has much more star power compared to other sports, such as football or baseball. Even beyond the obvious superstars, the NBA has a host of unique personalities. Even casual NBA fans know of the antics of players like Metta World Peace or Dwight Howard. Several fans recognize the celebrity status that comes along with being an NBA player.
“The NBA has been incredible for young people partially because of face time and the lack of constraints upon the players,” senior Zach Stewart said. “The NFL is constantly worried about behavioral issues and their faces are hidden by a helmet. With the NBA, you get to see the player’s ridiculous on-court antics and assign a face to those antics; it is great entertainment.”
The NBA is driven by these individual personalities. Ira Boudway explained sports individualism in his article “Are NBA Nickname Jerseys Coming Soon?” in Business Week. “With fewer players in the game and less specialization among them, basketball makes the most room for individual creativity and brilliance,” Broudway said.
Having these individual personalities makes it much easier for young kids to attach to these stars who can single-handedly win a game for their team, than, say, a quarterback in the NFL who usually relies on other players to score.
It is because of these strong personalities that the NBA is planning on allowing the Miami Heat and the Brooklyn Nets to wear special “nickname jerseys” for one of their games this season. As of right now, the special jerseys, limited to this game would be changed for players with well-known nicknames, such as “King” James and “The Truth” (Paul Pierce). Reactions to the nickname jerseys seem to be split between critics, fans, and even players. Bradley Ryder, a writer for Yahoo Sports, has concerns with the message it will send to kids.
“Miami and Brooklyn players like LeBron James and Deron Williams are role models to the young and old. It’s an unwritten rule,” Ryder said.
“In the event you’re still on the fence about the jersey idea for Miami and Brooklyn, consider this: The Nets’ Andrei Kirilenko’s nickname is AK-47,” Ryder said. Other writers, however, disagree. Nicholas Duchesne explains in “Those Nickname Jerseys Are a Great Idea” in Slate Magazine that this move celebrates basketball tradition more than it tarnishes it.
“Nicknamed superstars punctuate basketball history from its early days to the present: Earl “the Pearl” Monroe, Julius “Dr. J.” Erving, Earvin “Magic” Johnson,
Glen “Big Baby” Davis—and on and on and on,” Duchesne said.
“We know these names because basketball spotlights individualism more than the other major team sports—and also fosters a closer relationship between its players and its fans than those sports do,” Duchesne said. Players also seem divided on the issue. Ray “Shuttlesworth” Allen, thinks it highlights the fun, playful nature of the NBA during an interview with ESPN.
“We’re still kids, playing a kids’ game. Even though we’re now men playing a kids’ game, we still remember where we come from. Everybody had a nickname, and it’s a way to let the fans in a little bit more,” Allen said. Kendall Marshall, a rookie last year with the Phoenix Suns, took to Twitter to share his thoughts on the issue.
“The nickname makes it more about the individual. It’s still a team sport. Represent your team, your family, and go out there and play,” Marshall said. This highlights a problem for players like Marshall, who are either too young in the league or not at the superstar level like Lebron to have a nickname. With this new move from the NBA, perhaps it will be a chance for players like Marshall to reinvent themselves and develop a nickname to appeal to the younger fan base.