NBA ratings have steadily declined for years. Despite every media advantage, the league can’t find its footing with national audiences like it once could. Now, it routinely loses to sports and entertainment properties with far less marketing budget behind them.
Last weekend, the opening round of the 2021 playoffs proved no match for Phil Mickelson’s PGA Championship win at Kiawah Island. The NBA’s biggest star and defending champion, LeBron James, playing in a massive basketball market in Los Angeles, could barely keep up.
The Lakers drew Sunday’s largest hoops rating with 4.4 million viewers, while the final round of the PGA Championship drew 6.6 million viewers (and peaked at an incredible 13 million in the evening). The rest of the NBA slate fared even worse, with two other major markets, Philadelphia and Washington, failing to eclipse even 2 million viewers for their matchup.
Just a decade ago, these results would have been unthinkable. Something distinct has profoundly changed the product we once loved, and millions of fans are rejecting the change.
The media and NBA brass like to blame cord-cutting, season length, and bite-sized internet culture for the slip. NBA apologists blame tanking franchises, too many three point attempts, and new rules meant for player safety that “soften” the game.
These theories all have merit. When an institution as large as the NBA erodes, it’s never because of just one reason. However, they don’t take into account one undeniable change; the fundamental shift in attitude indicative of our country’s discourse at large.
We are witnessing, in real time, the ramifications of moving from competitive principles to communal principles. The results are staggering.
Sports are the American dream personified, and the American dream is human nature personified. Choose your destiny, pursue it with vigor, and bask in your accomplishment; the opinions of others be damned. As long as you stay focused on the prize, instead of the reasons you could fail, then competitiveness will lift all tides. Winners accept this agreement and appreciate it.
Many people revere sports because they think the games represent life itself. Competitiveness is the engine driving the athletic experience, as it also does in the business world down to the schoolyard. Athletes make it to the top of their professions because they earned it.
Professional leagues are inherent meritocracies; the only outcome that matters is the final score. There exists no room for subversion in professional sports, or at least there shouldn’t. Once something manipulates the game’s integrity, the experience contradicts human nature and repels the audience. A visceral pleasure quickly becomes a cheap drama without the integrity of human nature driving it.
So, why then has the NBA, one of our four major bastions of athletic competitiveness and merit-based success, taken a decisive stance favoring communist principles? Principles like egalitarianism and identity politics, that directly call for an end to competitiveness? Because, like half of this country, they’d rather do something cheap and easy than take the time to understand what their shortsightedness means for humanity.
Communism sounds delightful on paper. Equality for all naturally infers the end of victimization, right? Not so fast. Though communism’s goals feel like a sense of morality, the ideology actually subverts human nature, destroying society.
Like a basketball game, it’s in our nature to compete, succeed, and learn from our mistakes. Under communist regimes, though, you’re robbed of the ability to improve and evolve. For that, it’s an ideology devoid of integrity.
Without integrity, another word for both morality and structure, you can’t build a life in harmony with the human spirit. In fact, communism neuters the human spirit. That same human spirit is what makes sports so beautifully addicting. Equality, like integrity, is only achieved when people choose it for themselves.
Yet, despite the fallacy in forcing equality through shame, the NBA and its players go the extra mile to make identity-based messaging a priority. Last year in the COVID bubble, the league replaced jersey names with buzzwords.
Furthermore, NBA players and coaches love to sound off about the ugly state of American race relations. Yet, they remain curiously quiet about concentration camps and state-sponsored slave labor overseas. The obvious hypocrisy is enough to turn off many fans sick of being called racists in their own homes. However, the problems run deeper than just name-calling.
When you abandon the competitiveness inherent in the human experience in favor of a manufactured, victimized worldview, you abandon the idea that people possess the self-respect to achieve greatness on their own.
Believing the world is bigoted at its core only guarantees you’ll see and cultivate bigotry at every turn. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that begins with self-deception and ends with total disempowerment.
Why do you think leftists are obsessed with oppression and victimization?
For a sports league especially, championing disempowerment is a mortal sin because it contradicts the product itself. Unfortunately, most people instead opt to see their own discontent as a bridge toward a more equitable future.
In the case of the NBA, players and coaches think they’re fighting for the world’s victims. Actually, they’re making their struggles seem existential rather than conquerable, thus weakening them. It’s a headspace that feels progressive, but actually demands adherence to a hierarchy. Ironically, that’s exactly what leftists claim to hate (and what political grifters secretly love).
It’s hard to sell a product based on overcoming adversity while simultaneously telling viewers they’re either victims of oppression or oppressors themselves. The unintended consequence is psychological slavery.
Faux-empowerment and totalitarianism were indeed made for each other. But the NBA thinks they’re championing equality when they fight for the enslavement of identity groups.
Not all fans can verbalize what about the current NBA turns them off, but they know something is amiss. So, they’re making their human spirits heard through abandoning that which makes them feel terrible.
Ironically enough, this entire downward spiral began with a shift known as the player empowerment movement. The movement reflected changes in many aspects of the business, from contracts and team building to media treatment and international sponsorship. At its heart, though, the movement was a shift from competitiveness to theater.
The rise of social media last decade ushered in an era of personal marketing. The likes of which pop culture had never seen before. Players wanted to be brands, sell an image, and have their voices heard.
All of a sudden, championship-level competitiveness wasn’t enough to be considered successful. Activism and martyrdom meant as much as championship rings. Soon, the product off the court meant as much as the product on the court.
This resonated with a fraternity of mostly young, black men raised in difficult circumstances where their own culture taught them to believe they’re inferior. Taking up the mantle of social justice warrior made perfect sense for their new brand.
Whether they believed the victim narrative wholeheartedly or not was irrelevant; it was a business decision, and business was booming. The ruthlessness of 80’s and 90’s professional hoops receded in favor of a multi-millionaire’s self-obsession. Everyone was too rich, cool, and woke to be bothered anymore.
The name on the back of the jersey began to mean more than the name on the front. A kiss of death for any team in any industry. But, money still rolled in with no end in sight. The sport itself, however, became an afterthought.
At a certain point, they abandoned competitiveness in favor of collective bargaining. At first, fans didn’t catch on to the shift away from the game being most important. But they’re starting to catch on now.
No matter, though. As long as players show solidarity in their discontent and continue to act in the best interest of themselves instead of the fans, the league will kowtow to their demands.
The NBA’s always been a business, but the players used to relish their opportunities. They’d take great pride in their cities and the fans’ support. The hierarchy may have been skewed in the owners’ favors, but they still made exorbitant money to play a game for a living.
However, their demand for egalitarianism (literally on the court and figuratively off of it) bastardized a once-great show of humanity into a bland, ugly representation of communism.
What we see now is a collection of personal brands without a shred of self-awareness. Dishonestly lamenting the state of the world. The regular season has all but been forgotten thanks to loafing on the court, no defense, and load management.
The league has become more a stage for posturing than basketball. It’s an unscripted drama meant to highlight “me” instead of “we.”
Everyone is filthy rich, grossly unhappy with the world, and disconnected from reality. The NBA just provides a platform for righteous indignation. Only people addicted to discontent identify with such insanity and choose it as a worldview or a form of entertainment.
The shift in culture that made the NBA explode in popularity will become its ultimate downfall. Frankly, a house built on subversion cannot stand. Like the USSR, professional basketball enjoyed a cultural revolution that felt empowering, but was really built on a foundation of sand. Self-deception is no different than outward deception.
Since the league demands a world shaped by communistic ideals, everything players say and do undercuts the human spirit. Is it any wonder the NBA partnered with China as their primary international revenue stream? They think they’re championing a better reality. Really, however, they’re disempowering an entire generation from overcoming circumstances like they did through sports.
The raw competitiveness of sports—the blending of desire and accomplishment—is what makes us love them. Nothing is rigged, nothing is implied. Becoming a champion of integrity is all that matters in this life because all goodness and justice naturally spring forth from the empowered, victorious individual.
Human nature is beautiful in its simplicity. Learn from the NBA, and deviate from it at your own peril.
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