Archive for the ‘National Basketball Association’ Tag

Documentary on Knicks of the 1970s

After reading the Sports Documentary/Sports History issue of the Journal of Sports History (Summer 2014)  I watched Michael Rapaport’s contribution to ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, “When the Garden Was Eden.” The documentary intended to show how important the New York Knicks teams of the early 1970s were to the NBA and that they represented an oasis in the tumultuous era, where people from different backgrounds came together and played as a team. As a professional basketball historian and fan I wondered about accuracy of its main argument but also how it fit with the sports documentary analysis I’d read.

As part of ESPN’s series, this documentary fits into the company’s model that Travis Vogan describes (“Institutionalizing and Industrializing Sport History,” 197). While the actor does not provide the cache that some of the earlier film makers in the series did, he brought the enthusiasm of a Knicks fan to his project and the style of the series provides the makers with cinematic signifiers that Joshua Malitsky discussed in his article, (“Knowing Sports,”  206).

The documentary proved to have a few minor inconsistencies and errors.  “Garden was Eden” began by presenting the National Basketball Association as second to college basketball in New York City and as a “minor” professional sports league compared to professional baseball and football through the 1960s. One example mentioned is that the players received such small salaries to its players that they had to take jobs during the off-season  (When the Garden Was Eden, 5-6 minute mark). Interestingly, while the comparison is made among the sports league, there is no investigation of how much players earned in baseball and football. In both of these sports, as well as hockey, players found themselves in the same position of having to work second jobs. Basketball had two centers that earned significant salaries, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, each earned around $100,000 annually. Walt Bellamy, the Baltimore Bullets’ center, earned $30,000 before becoming unhappy with contract negotiations with the team. Baltimore traded Bellamy to the Knicks, and his salary with them undercuts Reed’s comment here that none of his Knicks teammates earned more than $22,000. (The Bullets, The Wizards and Washington, DC, 78)

As part of the discussion about the insignificance of the NBA prior to the emergence of these Knicks, the film mentions that the league sometimes had its playoff finals shown on tape delay (When the Garden Was Eden, 6-7 minute mark). As Mario R Sarmento showed in his work, “The NBA on Network Television: A Historical Analysis,” the league had gained ground on television during the 1960s through the skillful directing of Roone Arledge. Ratings crept up and the NBA received increased revenue for its product. The tape delayed finals were not resolved by the development of a championship team in New York, as the film leads us to believe. The tape delay showing of the NBA Finals occurred during the late 1970s, when the broadcasts of all NBA games suffered severe ratings declines (Sarmento, 48-50).

More than the aforementioned inaccuracies, an omission proved a very important to making the point about the uniqueness of the Knicks. While painting the Knicks as a multi-racial team with a variety of individual personalities, the documentary failed to discuss the composition of any of other NBA teams. Wouldn’t Boston’s Celtics, Los Angeles’ Lakers, or Washington’s Bullets, also provide this same cohesion of different individuals into a winning team? I would argue that each team met this standard as well.

The style of its presentation aided immensely in making “Garden was Eden,” appear persuasive. The documentary adopted most of the claims that Malitsky described as assertions that contemporary documentaries make about sport. Rapaport’s film certainly used sports as visually spectacular, as individual expression and as already narrativized.  However, it interplayed these three in an ingenious way that enabled them to reinforce one another and give more power to the argument the documentary advanced.  During a twelve-minute stretch, the director took people from a black-and-white image of a down New York City, through colorful individualized introductions to each of the new Knick players, as they joined the team. This individual introduction of the biographies and special talents of these players included visually spectacular footage that depicted these youthful players as heroes were typically presented in many a Hollywood narrative movie.  After more context about the disruption era with Civil Rights and Vietnam War protests, the montage ended with a photograph of all the players on the team seated in rows, presenting the  documentary’s argument that these people of diverse backgrounds came together as a team. “Garden was Eden” also touched on sport’s connection with Capital but was neither critical or accepting sport as a business like any other. The movie celebrated the Knicks as significant to lifting up the fortunes of a struggling league, drawing celebrities (31 minute mark) giving it cache in the advertizing world and in magazines and books (52-55 minute mark). Interestingly, the documentary missed one opportunity to further this point when it presented the trade of Earl Monroe to New York. “The Pearl” wanted to leave Baltimore for a few reasons, a major one being a lack of advertising and business opportunities that could be had if he played with the Knicks.(59-62 minute mark, The Bullets, chapter 6).


Washington, DC Basketball History

Surprised that Washington, DC had a professional basketball team in the 1920s?

That Washington team played the first African-American in a professional NBA game?

How did Abe Pollin buy the Baltimore Bullets?

It’s all here in my new book:

Book Cover

Published by Scarecrow Press as part of the new series of sports books edited by John Grasso, THE BULLETS, THE WIZARDS, AND WASHINGTON, DC, BASKETBALL chronicles the stories and traditions of 80 years of Washington, DC’s professional basketball tradition. Renowned players such as Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes, Chris Webber, and Michael Jordan all played for a Washington, DC area team. Highlights include reaching the finals under Hall of Fame coach and general manager Red Auerbach to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in the late 1970s.

While capturing the biographies of the teams, the authors illuminate the professional games’ movement from a regional sport played on dance floors to the present day multi-billion dollar business viewed from luxury suites. The book illustrates features that contributed to the success of the game, such as player contracts and salary structure; changes in team personnel including preparation methods and technology enhancements; travel arrangements from buses and rail to public and charter flights; the evolution of rules surrounding the game; and a discussion of basketball fans and what factors affect attendance.

Through meticulous research in newspaper, magazine and archival materials, and interviews with former players, coaches and executives, their findings depict the various owners, players and rivalries. As the authors provide insight into the trades and most significant games in DC pro basketball history, they show how these events relate to trends and movements in the sport. A fascinating look at the history of professional basketball in our nation’s capital, THE BULLETS, THE WIZARDS, AND WASHINGTON, DC, BASKETBALL will appeal to all fans of the sport.

• Call toll-free: 1-800-462-6420

Popular Culture Conference 2011

In San Antonio near the Alamo to see professors from all over the world talk about everything from Buffy the vampire slayer to fat studies, masculinity, and sexuality.

Did my presentation on the old basketball team the Washington Capitols and their inability to remain in the NBA. The small group had a discussion about fans, team identities, the media as a Greek chorus telling us about how the game is being played, who the heros and villans are etc.

Liked a talk about Glee and the idea of television musicals. Cops Rock and another show in the 1990s failed probably becuase it all was too unfamilar to viewers but Glee counters that by choosing well known songs.

Antoher good talk about Billy Elliott and its use of the community to allow Billy to succeed as a dancer. Liked to hear more about collections at university librariesand another about the sexual fantasies of males in three popular movies.

Moving for Money and Opportunities

We all know cities decline, having heard about Buffalo, Detroit and the Rust Belt. Jobs, chances to move up, join the middle class has prompted people to leave the farm for the city, leave the Rust Belt for the Sun Belt, and what leave the US for somewhere else?

Today, rural areas are facing new bleak times and might have to move. Are the Sacramento Kings facing the same issue?

The Post had a huge article about declining rural areas in Virginia. The textile factories that moved there in the 1920s through 1940s from New England for cheaper labor moved out, taking away paying jobs (see the movie Norma Rae).

Now Walmart left and the area’s restaurants can’t stay open. The social service and donor organizations don’t have any money to give out to help people stay. This is what the Great Depression looked like and in those days people picked up and moved because they had no chance where they were. The big question is do the people have the money to leave?

Are the Sacramento Kings leaving for the same reason? The team finished second to last in attendance for this season, averaging little less than 14,000 a game or 80% of the capacity of the arena. The Kings were in the top 10 of the league in drawing crowds on the road.

Is Sacramento in decline so the crowds could not afford to show up? The city has a median income of $47,000 which is $11,000 less than the state’s average. There are over 2 million people in the surrounding area so the city has the means to make the team a success. However, the owners want a new arena with high end corporate boxes to maximize their profits.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Mayor Heather Fargo made several abortive attempts to provide taxpayer financing of a new sports arena for the Maloof brothers, owners of the Sacramento Kings NBA Basketball franchise. In November 2006, Sacramento voters soundly defeated a proposed sales tax hike to finance the plan. The defeat was due in part to competing plans for the new arena and its location.

In late 2010 the Maloof family began negotiating with officials in Anaheim, California in an effort to move the NBA Kings franchise to that city, despite repeated assurances that the team would stay in Sacramento. On March 29, 2011, the City of Anaheim approved bond measures aimed at assisting the Kings move and thereby all but ensuring that the franchise will be leaving Sacramento and relocating to Anaheim.

Sports, The Beatles and History

Housing Complex

Inside the Washington Coliseum with Brett Abrams: If You Can Keep the Whole Building, Keep the Whole Building

Posted by Dave McKenna on Jun. 25, 2009 at 01:51 pm

Brett Abrams is happy. Abrams is a local historian and author of “Capital Sporting Grounds: A History of Stadium and Ballpark Construction in Washington, DC.” Today he’s leading me on a tour of the city’s sports facilities, built and unbuilt, still standing and long gone.

But for a bit of our time together, I get to play tour guide. I take Abrams, who loves old sports buildings as much as I do, over to 3rd and M Streets N.E., to my favorite structure in town, the Washington Coliseum. He knows about its history. But he didn’t know about its present.

So until today he’s never been inside.

“The greatest thing about this building is: It’s still here!” says Abrams, walking among the rows of parked SUVs with a huge smile (pictured above). “That’s really something.”

Here’s the link to the Beatles.

Yes it is. The Coliseum, built in the 1940s by local icemaker Migiel “Mike” Uline to host shows from touring entertainment troupes like Ringling Brothers circus and the Ice Capades, had been on death row for decades. Its useful life as a sports arena and major concert hall ended when Abe Pollin opened the Capital Centre in Largo in 1973, and in the years since it has been abandoned, hosted occasional Chuck Brown go-gos, used as a trash dump from 1994 to 2003, and, for the last several years, served as a pay parking lot.

There’s water damage all over the place from the years of inattention, and it’s dark as hell inside. But that’s nothing compared to the fact that you can drive or walk over the very floor where so many big, big things happened.

Rocky Marciano, the only heavyweight boxing champ ever to retire undefeated and stay retired, fought at the Coliseum. Red Aeurbach got his legendary pro basketball career started here, coaching the Washington Capitols of the Basketball Association of America, an NBA precursor, from 1946 to 1949. And, most famously, in February 1964, John, Paul, George and Ringo played their first US. show here on their way to taking over the world. A lot of seats from the arena’s heyday remain in the upper levels and corners.

For a building with such a great resume, there’s not much fanfare about the Coliseum. The most obvious sign that this ground is hallowed comes with a stenciled pair of brown beetles somebody painted outside the parking lot’s entrance a few years ago. Most folks in DC don’t even know the building still stands.

The coliseum is now owned by Doug Jemal, who is not only quite aware of his building’s past, but has also said many times that he keeps that past in mind whenever any plans to develop the property are proposed.

You can’t help but feel the history when you walk in the place.

“There’s the walkways!” Abrams says pointing upstairs. “Still here!”

For some folks, including me and Abrams, that’s, as he said, really something.

There is so much more to the old Uline Arena and several efforts are being made to save the place.

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NBA: Losing Big Money

Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonis announced before his group made their bid to buy the Washington Wizards that the National Hockey League is in better financial shape than the National Basketball Association. I thought it was partly a negotiating ploy but also knew that the NBA was negotiating a new agreement with the players union in 2011.

Parade Magazine ran a story on the $400 million that owners in the NBA lost this year. Many tried ploys like inviting groups to perform at halftime and charging them and their supporters full price for the tickets in order to fill up empty arenas for a game.

Here’s the article link: Below are the six suggested improvements.

“Instead of ejecting a player after six foul,” says agent Steve Mountain, who represents Orlando’s Jameer Nelson, “assess a technical for fouls six and seven, and eject after eight. This would keep the best players in the game longer.”

Really, how often do the best stars foul out of games and usually not until the very end of the game. Seems like a lame fix that causes a loss in strategy.
“Shorten the 24-second shot clock to 20 seconds to make for more possessions,” Falk says. “Or create a four-point play. People thought the three-point shot would destroy the game, but it added to it instead.”
Many people I know think the League lacks defensive effort from players as is. They like the NCAA games which have more intensity and less scoring.


“You should have to be out of high school for three years to play in the NBA,” Falk says. Playing college hoops would allow athletes to develop a fan base that they could carry with them into the pros.
Don’t buy this argument.
“There’s a reason why Charles Barkley, who is retired, is still getting endorsements,” says Sports Illustrated writer Jon Wertheim, who has covered the NBA for 13 years, “and, say, Tim Duncan and Carmelo Anthony aren’t. Today, the players with personality often have the color bleached out of them.” Blogger Bethlehem Shoals of advises, “They should Twitter all the time. It could be a lifeline to these guys’ personalities.”

The NBA chose to market by personalities since the Magic Johnson Larry Bird era so they lost a lot of fan support for particular teams. Now they need to market the game also solely by personality. However, they need more personalities such as Le Bron James and less of the Gilbert Arenas (post gun scene) that do not have the same ability to play to mainstream US and international markets.
Many have told me that they do not like Kobe Bryant because he comes across as arrogant. This is certainly a problem that other sports have as well, such as the dislike of ARod by many. However, ARod’s personality can be encompassed by the larger Yankee team and Yankee fans will continue to support the team even with some individual players on it that they do not like. Can the same be said for NBA fans?
“Eliminate or significantly reduce rules that require salaries of traded players to match up,” Mountain says.

The NBA’s season comprises 82 games. Reducing the number of contests could make each one matter much more to players and fans alike. As Falk explains, “In pro football, there are only 16 games, so every game is critical.”

Would like to see this happen in Hockey and Baseball too but what are the odds, particularly if team owners are already losing money.

My Suggestions:

1. Reduce Ticket Prices

Who can afford the face value of tickets to a professional basketball game? The article talks about people who have lost their jobs, geez I still have my job and I don’t want to pay $150 for a mid-level ticket.

Reducing the cost will bring in more people and that can help build back their interest in both the sport and the team.

2. Change the Playoff TV Times:

Start the playoff games at hours when most people can stay up to watch the entire game. Cut down on the introductory talk (not a half hour) and limit the commercials so the games do not go three hours.

Changes coming in the next contract are going to make the game quite different. I imagine that many of the guarantee contracts are going to be bargained away and that will lead to more inspiration out of players and probably more despotic moves by owners.

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Parade Magazine’s Cowboy Stadium

Woke up this weekend and saw the article in Parade magazine on the cost of sports. Thought the piece was either about the high risk of injury or focused on the economics of professional sports.

The writer focused on the cost of attending a football game. Fair enough. Who can afford to get a good ticket for a NBA game ($150 face value). Even a good ticket for a MLB Baseball game runs ($40-60) and there are 81 home games a year!

The prices are amazing for a NFL game. “The average cost of attending an NFL game for a family of four is $412.64, it’s a staggering $758.58 to watch the Cowboys.” While mentioning that the new Cowboy stadium carries $1.15 billion price tag, the writer doesn’t mention who paid for that.

Just like I describe in Capital Sporting Grounds for Washington, DC, it’s the taxpayers. The total cost of Arlington’s share of the stadium bond debt, including interest, is expected to be $502.9 million. That’s about $44 million more than the city initially expected. At least in this case the team paid about half of the cost!

In the current economic times, who has the disposable income to attend games? Presumably only the top salaried individuals while everyone has to pay for the actual stadium.

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