Tag Archives: basketball

Truth in Advertising a Winning Play

By Jason Menard

At last — truth in advertising! And from a sports franchise no less.

When it comes to businesses, sports are one of the least likely enterprises to engage in honesty — after all, a large part of a club’s revenue is generated, in one way or another, by selling their fan base on hope.

Hope sells jerseys. Hope sells tickets — and once those butts are in the seat, hope delivers them to the concession booth where hope justifies paying outrageous sums of money for watered-down beer, cheaply made clothing bearing the team’s logo, and seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time knick-knacks (which can easily be confused, if you’re in Madison Square Garden, with Knick Knacks.) Continue reading

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Fans Pay for Players’ Mistakes

By Jason Menard

The latest NBA brawl is notable mainly because of the harsh reaction by the league. Of course, as is the case in all of these situations, the only true loser is the fans.

Think about this. The NBA’s leading scorer, Carmelo Anthony, has been rightly suspended for 15 games for his involvement in a recent on-court dust-up between the New York Knicks and Anthony’s Denver Nuggets. Anthony, of course, is one of the leagues “next ones,” drafted behind only Cleveland’s LeBron James and Orlando’s Darko Milicic (originally chosen by Detroit) and before Toronto’s Chris Bosh.

The length of the suspension shows two things: one, the league is serious about cracking down on violence, even if that means suspending one if its young, marquee talents; and, two, the league really doesn’t care that much about its fans.

That’s right. By suspending Carmelo Anthony (and, to a lesser extent, the other players who received varying degrees of penalties), the league has said to the NBA fans in general – and Denver fans in particular – that it doesn’t care about providing value for the entertainment dollar. Discipline defeats customer appreciation every time.

Of those 15 games that Anthony has been suspended, 12 of them take place in Denver. With the team clinging to seventh place in the Western Conference, there’s a good chance that after 10 games without its top two scorers (J.R. Smith received 10 games off for his involvement in the fracas) the club will find itself on the outside looking in. That means you’ve got two sets of losers: the team and the hard-working, money-paying fans.

By suspending Anthony, who is already rich beyond most of our wildest dreams – no matter how wild your dreams may be, the league has done minimal damage to the player. Sure, his endorsements may falter a little bit, but they’ll come back (Kobe Bryant, anyone?) In the end, Anthony suffers little more than a 15-game break that will end up leaving him fresher in the long run – perhaps bestowing an advantage to him during the end-of-season grind.

But imagine if you’re a Nuggets fan, who has saved up all year – or longer – to earn enough to pay for a couple of seasons’ tickets. You sacrifice on other things for the right to go to the game to see one of the league’s elite players on a nightly basis – only to have that taken away from you because of one player’s selfish act.

Or what about those dedicated fans who may have planned a holiday trip to Colorado, partly to catch their beloved Nuggets in action. The value of their trip has gone down, but I don’t see anyone in the NBA offering a reimbursement.

Sure, Anthony’s the one getting punished, but why does it have to hurt the fan so much?

Like the punk kid in school who looks at a suspension as nothing more than time off of school, the NBA’s form of punishment here is ineffective at best – and punitive to the fans at worst (don’t believe me? Try asking some Indiana Pacers’ fans about their experience a couple of years back).

So what’s the solution? Simple. Anthony doesn’t miss a single game. He continues to play for the Nuggets, providing the fans value for their money. However, he does not earn any salary for the duration of his suspension – essentially working for free. And then, at the end of the season, he is compelled to perform various acts of league-imposed community service in the Denver community as a way to make up for sullying the club’s name. And the same goes for the players in New York.

The other alternative is to make players financially liable for the losses incurred by the franchise or the fans as a result of their actions. If a player’s suspension results in the loss of playoff revenue, then perhaps a percentage of the player’s salary should be returned to the club in the form of compensation.

In fact, why not open up class action suits for fans who can prove that their investment has been devalued by these actions? A season ticket holder can argue that his 40+ game investment has lost over a quarter of its value – and the player could then be responsible for reimbursing every fan who makes a claim (within reason of course). Maybe a nice hand-written note of apology could accompany each cheque.

Of course, this will never happen. For a Player’s Association that defends its members, even if they choke management (and, yes, I’m looking at you Latrell Sprewell), doing the right thing comes second to protecting its dues-paying members.

But imagine if we could hit players where it truly hurts – in the pocketbook. Heck, these guys all say they love the game so much they’d play it for free, but I have a belief that when push comes to shove money matters. When you threaten those paycheques – or make them play without pay – chances are incidents like this will drop dramatically. In the NBA – as in any professional sport – money talks. So this solution could be used in all major sports: the NHL, NFL, and MLB!

Best of all, this would only impact a small number of people, as most athletes are fine, upstanding individuals. But if you’re going to step outside of the rules, you should be forced to own up to your transgressions.

After all, it’s not the fans’ fault, so why should they be forced to pay – both literally and figuratively – for someone else’s mistakes?

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

An Unqualified Masters in Bracketology

By Jason Menard

It’s March Madness again and, like many of you, I’ve filled out my brackets and eagerly check on the scores to see how my picks are faring.

Also, like many of you, I have no idea what I’m doing.

There are 64 teams in the NCAA tournament and I’m hard-pressed to name any of the players. Not one. In fact, I can only name a handful of coaches. Yet, I sat down and actually thought about my picks, justifying them in my mind, before committing them to paper. I am in three – count ‘em – three on-line pools! But, to be fair, all of them are free.

I may be delusional, but I’m not crazy.

It’s all just a crapshoot. For the most part, the big favourites end up winning, the Final Four is comprised of at least a couple of number-one seeds, and the world keeps spinning on its axis. And, you know what, I’ll probably do fairly well with my picks.

On the other hand, when it comes to picking sports that I do know, I’m abysmal. I’ve tried ProLine-ing hockey and all I end up doing is making a donation to the lottery fund. I consider myself well-versed in the Canadian Football League, but my annual foray into a prediction pool ends up finding me drowning half-way through.

NHL playoff pools? Football fantasy? Basketball rotisserie? All met with varying degrees of success. But NCAA? I’m in it to win it each year.

NCAA Pools pop up everywhere both in offices and on-line. The Final Four tournament is one of those events that even non-sports fans can appreciate. Like the Super Bowl and the Olympics, these are bandwagon events that have enough room for everyone to jump on. And because there’s a structure to the event people can easily get involved in the game.

And get in the game we do. The best part about participating in these pools is when you watch those self-important few, who can name the starting five of all the NIT-level schools blow a gasket over the guy who lets his three-year-old pick the results ending up winning the pool. The beauty of the NCAA tournament is that anyone can win it and there’s just no rhyme or reason most of the time.

One serendipitous game. That’s all it takes for a one-seed to fall by the wayside in the first weekend. A couple of unlucky bounces one way and a hot hand going the other and the favourite is watching along with the rest of us. It’s that one-and-out finality that draws us to the games. This isn’t a long, slow build-up, like most fantasy pools – this is instant gratification at its finest.

What’s great is the liberating feeling that one has picking these brackets. I know about as much about the Final Four as I do about the Bolivian election. The only difference is that I have an opinion on the NCAA tournament – and it matters just as much as the guy whose life is dedicated to catching college hoops on the tube.

Overall, it’s shocking how much most of us who fill out these brackets don’t know about college hoops. Not that I’m advocating ignorance, but I’m just as happy not knowing. I have my sports of interest and college basketball isn’t one of them. However, when it comes to events of interest, the Final Four is right up there.

In truth, what I know about college hoops is pretty much restricted to the things I hate about it: Duke (although I really don’t know why I hate them, they just seem to elicit this feeling) and Dick Vitale (and I do know why I hate them.) That’s about it. I read a great biography of Michigan’s Fab Five once – does that count?

I enjoy basketball at its highest level – the NBA. And, while I appreciate the dedication and talent of these *cough* student *cough* athletes, for the most part I’m not invested in their fortunes. I can’t tell my Iona from my Gonzaga, but I’ve picked one of them to make it to the Final Four!

So, when the end of the tournament finally comes, I’ll be checking with interest to see who cuts down the nets. And, although I may not recognize the player, I’ll sure be smiling if the team is in my bracket.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Time for Raptors to Evolve

By Jason Menard

Is it too late to pick up the “loveable losers” tag from the Chicago Cubs because the 2005-2006 edition of the Toronto Raptors certainly need something to hang their hat on?

Alas, following a November that left the team 1-15 on the season is just pitifully bad. The eminently likeable head coach Sam Mitchell appears before the media’s cameras resembling Nero more and more, fiddling while the franchise burns behind him.

There are only so many times you can say your team is playing hard, working hard, learning well, developing in practice, or whatever other excuse Mitchell’s been using to deflect the fans from the hard and fast truth. This is a bad team.

Hope for the future is great and all, but we live in an instant gratification society. It’s easier to appreciate the aging of a fine wine when you’ve been able to taste a couple of batches along the way to test its progress. However, if you make that same wine aficionado abstain until the vintage is ready, chances are you’re going to have some cranky days along the way.

It’s fine and dandy to promise wins that will come one day, but the fans need the odd reminder of what a W looks and feels like.

Compounding this is the natural inferiority we, as Canadians, feel about our professional sports franchises. Whether or not we like to admit it out loud there’s always a feeling that these professional leagues, based south of the border, look at Canadian franchises as nothing more than annoyances better to be relocated to a more favourable environment. And it’s not a fear based on paranoia as NBA fans in Vancouver, MLB fans in Montreal, and NHL fans in Quebec City and Winnipeg will attest to.

Winning is the only way to ensure long-term financial security. The Toronto Blue Jays have started to figure it out, investing money into a franchise that’s not even a contender in its big-money game, but has a little potential for success. Remember, we Canadians support our teams win or tie!

But beyond fan support, the other aspect that we as Canadians have to deal with is American ignorance. Getting players to relocate north of the 49 th is as difficult as pulling teeth at times. So, once they’re here we want them to stay. Make ‘em happy, keep ‘em smiling and maybe more will come. Take a look at the World Series-winning Jays for example – they were a franchise that people wanted to play for, not a destination to be avoided at all costs.

Which brings us to the NBA’s Raptors. Blessed with the rights to a talented cornerstone upon which the franchise can be built in Chris Bosh, already the concerns are starting to rise. Will he stay once his rookie deal’s done? Can we keep him? Do we have the right management to build a contender before he bolts south of the border?

It’s not a lot of fun in Raptorland, either for the players or the fans. Despite the ever-gracious Bosh and fan-favourite Matt Bonner the team hasn’t been able to capture the fans’ imaginations as loveable losers – they’re just losers, and that has to stop.

It’s time for a complete overhaul of the franchise, only a decade into its existence. The team is burdened with a dinosaur-sized weight of past burdens left malcontents like Damon Stoudamire, Tracy McGrady, and Vince Carter, dismal seasons, and lost hope. The 2005-2006 Raptors have been crafted with the idea of starting from scratch and building together for a bright new future powered by Bosh and fuelled by rookies like Charlie Villaneuva, Joey Graham, and Jose Calderon. Why hamper their development by fitting them with ill-fitting clothes?

It’s time to finally make the Raptor extinct and create a new attitude and culture of winning. It’s not enough to just rearrange the furniture if the exterior looks the same. Open the concept of a new team name to the fans and let them feel some sort of ownership for the franchise. Choose a colour scheme and logo that kids can be proud to wear. And wipe the slate clean of the history of losing that the Raptors name carries with it.

The team has tried everything else: new managers, new upper management, new ownership, and new players. So why not start a new era with a new attitude and new mentality, prominently displayed by a new logo.

After all, the Toronto Loveable Losers doesn’t sound any worse than what they are now, does it?

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Like Déjà Vu All Over Again

By Jason Menard

See if this sounds familiar to you. A nation, secure in its dominance over a sport, and assured of its dominance suddenly finds itself given a rude awakening by a shift in its very foundation as – seemingly out of nowhere – multi-talented, polished athletes from overseas lay claim on to the throne.

While you may think I’m talking about the recent NBA draft and European trend, that’s not the situation I’m referring to. In fact, go back over 30 years and you’ll find the same situation with your friends north of the border. History is a great teacher – but as the old adage goes, those who forget history’s mistakes are doomed to repeat them!

For many years, Canadian superiority in the game of hockey seemed to be a divine right – at least for those north of the 49 th parallel. The professional ranks were in large part populated by good ol’ rugged Canadian boys. The only stain on the Canadian resume was lack of success on the international scene. Instead of delving deeper into that, we Canadians haughtily (shocking for Canadians) chalked that up to the fact that our professionals weren’t competing in international competitions. If they were, surely we’d be skating those Europeans right off the rink!

Then can 1972 – and the series that roused a nation. The eight-game summit series between the then-Soviet national squad and a team of Canadian NHL all-stars was won by the slimmest of margins! With Foster Hewitt’s legendary “Henderson scores for Canada!” a nation breathed a collective sigh of relief – our armour dented, but not broken.

Fast forward to the past decade or so. American basketball dominance was unquestioned. The professional ranks were largely red, white, and blue in composition, with the occasional big man from overseas dotting the landscape. But slowly, international competitions between American teams and other countries became more competitive – so what to do?

That’s right – send in the pros! And for a while it worked. In fact, at times the matching up of assorted Dream Teams against weaker nations was almost comical – and certainly the end result was never in doubt. American hoops dominance was assured, life would go on, and the world would keep turning.

Until recently.

A sixth-place finish at the World Basketball Championships for the U.S. was just a start. NBA teams are turning their eyes more and more overseas to find the next wave of NBA stars. And in many cases, the players coming out of Europe are as good – if not better – than their brethren from the U.S. high school and collegiate ranks.

And now a nation looks inward and poses two major questions of itself. Why has this happened and how can we fix it?

“Henderson scores for Canada.” With those words, Hewitt ended one hockey era and ushered in a new one. Hockey was Canada’s game. And now these Russian upstarts – who just started playing in the 1950s! – almost snatched away our birthright. First came the excuses – our boys weren’t in shape, the Russians played as a team all year round, etc. But after that initial outburst of fury and confusion, the answers came out clear as day.

Canadian hockey hadn’t evolved. Our dominance was presumed, so where was the impetus to get better? What worked always worked, so there was no need to change. NHLers looked at training camp as a place to play themselves into shape, not refine their games. Canadian youth concentrated on playing games, not practicing and developing our skills.

By contrast, the Russians practiced far more often than they played. Fundamentals and the team concept were stressed. In fact, one of the major criticisms of the time (which persisted for many years) was that the Russians passed the puck too much! Conditioning was also paramount to their success. They took the best of the Canadian game, added to it, and created a finished product that was unlike anything before.

But the most fundamental change was that the 1972 Canadian squad was a team of stars, the Russian squad was just a team. Of course, certain names have stood the test of time, but they won as a team and executed as a team.

Now, let’s switch back to the present-day NBA. One of the main buzz-words coming out of NBA circles is that European players are better schooled in fundamentals. Their club teams stress a team concept and practice is integral to their development. Sound familiar?

In large part, the NBA of the past 15 years has been a star-driven league. Youth were peppered with images of Dominique Wilkens, Michael Jordan, and Sean Kemp soaring through the air. In fact, the term “posterized” entered the jargon of the game. But when was the last time you saw a well-made pass posterized?

So can things change for American basketball players? Well, yes – but it won’t be easy. Shortly after the 1972 Canada-Russia series, Canadian players and coaches began dissecting the reasons for the Soviet’s success. Instead of remaining an up-and-down the wings game, Canadians adopted some of the Russian’s all-ice tactics. More of a focus was placed on skill development and practice. In the end, we’ve come up with a hybrid sort of game. Canadians took the best of the Russian model and adapted it to our own game, while the Soviets took from the Canadian game to refine their own.

The process still continues to this day. The stereotypes of the rugged Canadian who wins with heart and grit contrasted to the “softer” European who plays with skill and grace continue to this day, but to a lesser degree.

In the U.S. there needs to be a fundamental change in the way the game is perceived at a youth level. The lack of polish on American players hasn’t resulted from players coming out of college early, or skipping it altogether, but rather the NBA has created this beast itself – selling images of the individual and not the team! When all you showcase are the individual artists, who do you think the youth are going to emulate?

Are things getting any better? Well, look at the recent NBA draft – everyone knows LeBron James, but how many people know what school he played for?

High schools need to stress fundamentals in their development, but where’s the motivation for a young player to buy into the team game, when it’s still all about the “Me”? So perhaps it’s going to take a few years of more fundamentally sound imports filling out NBA rosters before we see a shift in the way the game is presented.

Speaking from experience, making change is hard when it comes to a game you have always considered your own. However, without change there may come a time when you’re on the outside looking in, just remembering the good ol’ days.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved