Indiana Pacers fan Sean Shepard laments, “I miss the guys from the ’90s, Tank Thompson, the Davis boys, Haywood Workman, Sam Mitchell and many others. Heck even Rik Smits. Those were good guys who worked hard and were worth rooting for.”
Shepard could be any NBA fan, in any city. The complaint about the quality of play and quality of players is universal. David Stern knows about it. He knows that the NBA as a whole is underachieving as a marketable sports entity. The once strong must see NBA is now bleeding.
Sports are a reflection of society. Are people today naturally lazier than those in successive generations? I don’t think so. However the incentives aren’t clear cut anymore. Extrinsic rewards are at an all time high. We will gladly hype, tout, and promote any kid who dominates on the AAU or summer camp level. Fans, media and pro basketball management don’t expect players to help their teams win basketball games, we just expect them to be highly touted coming out of college. How do you become highly touted out of AAU? Size, good hands, and the most ridiculous phrase, “great upside.”
How did it get this way? Universities have exploited players for a long time. Now the prospect guys are exploiting talent by latching themselves onto so-called hot players. They invite them to their super camp, their AAU team. It’s shoe contracts and letters of intent, and not the peach basket ten feet up.
How can those associated with basketball change the direction of the game? We must eliminate or reduce the extrinsic rewards. For example, create less hype before a player has a chance to show over time his/her true ability and contribution to the game of basketball. Also as basketball fans, we only talk and spread news about players we have actually seen play.
The athletes themselves have a right to earn money and promote themselves in order to obtain better offers from universities and teams. But only if that choice is in reality self-made or based largely on his or her own desire.
We must also blame the parents who condition student athletes as young as five or six years old for the scholarship. After the scholarship, the pro draft. The pressure creates incentives based on rewards that aren’t easily attainable, and reduces intrinsic motivation and increases reliance on outside praise or hype from others.
We no longer know if an athlete as young as two years old is playing a particular sport for enjoyment or because of vicarious visions of Dad and Mum. In fact, we no longer know that even with athletes who have reached plateaus such as the NCAA level. “His first love was baseball, but with his hands we thought he would have a better shot at getting a scholarship in Football,” says Dad from suburb of X, Middle State, U.S.A.
In order to keep the cycle from spinning out of control, professional sports organizations must re-brand themselves. I suggest the key lies in the fans ability to identify with the athletes on the field. If pro sporting events and its participants no longer represent the collective positive values of society (hard work, reasonableness, and desire), the fans continue the revolt. They want to see the athlete struggle, work, overcome and then achieve.Powered by Sidelines