It's official: I am a hater. I needed clarification and I got it a few days back when a friend who works for the NBA breathlessly exclaimed how excited he was that the season was opening this week with a big game between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat.
'Let's go Celtics,' I said, and before the words were out of my mouth he told me point blank, 'You're a hater'. Understandably, the good folks at the NBA are a bit sensitive about hate these days. With the off-season departure of first Chris Bosh, who was the face of the Toronto Raptors, and LeBron James, who was the face of the NBA, to the balmy climes of Miami Beach to join Dwyane Wade in forming a super team, anybody outside of south Florida and over the age of seven is a hater of the Heat.
Particularly galling was LeBron's prime-time, one-hour special when he announced he was leaving his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers and 'taking my talents to South Beach'. Now why can't everybody love this massively commercially and enormously charismatic collection of talent all under the same sun umbrella? It's going to be boffo ratings, don't you know?
I told my friend I have been a Celtics fan for over 40 years and while there will be lots of games to hate the Heat this year, opening night was more about loving the Celtics than hating Miami. The notion of fan loyalty is kind of alien these days in the NBA and it's really no surprise because everything it is was built by shrewdly marketing the NBA as a league of stars, not teams. When commissioner David Stern took over in 1984, the Celtics-Lakers rivalry featuring Larry Bird in Boston and Magic Johnson in Los Angeles was already in place. In the proceeding 26 years, the NBA became a multibillion-dollar global industry thanks to the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and, of course, that LeBron kid who took his talents to South Beach. King David of Stern astutely positioned and populated his fiefdom with the kind of mega-watt athletic luminaries that would make Hollywood green with envy.
The confluence of Hollywood and the NBA that followed was about as natural as inhaling and exhaling. A few years back Stern was asked what two teams would be his ideal match-up in the finals. 'The Lakers versus the Lakers,' he said. There are viewers all over the world who may not know what a double dribble is but they know who Jack Nicholson is and there's old Jack himself spread out courtside.
You kiddies want some fresh meat? There's High School Musical hero Zac Efron and if it's funny you want, we got Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy and Will Ferrell courtside as well.
Everybody's in the house; it's stars watching stars and so many of them that Galileo would be cross-eyed. Only one problem though, it appears the stars in the shorts are making way too much money these days. A few days before the season opener, King David announced that the league lost US$350 million last year and he wants to slash payroll by US$800 million annually, about a third of the current amount.
Well, hello Dr Frankenstein, but who created this monster? King David has been very generous, accommodating and affable to me over the years and so have the people who worked for him, not to mention extremely efficient. I like the guy and I like most of his people. But when he admits that the company he runs lost US$350 million last year and he is still employed as the commissioner, well, I figure the Dear Leader in North Korea would love to have that kind of job security.
Stern is right, the players make way too much money and the reason he would go public with the figure is to drum up support among the general public who are aghast that a guy like Stephon Marbury, who was a moody, disruptive and one-dimensional player in his good days, was getting paid US$23 million a year to NOT play for the New York Knicks two seasons ago.
Try as I might, I could not find any stories about the team owner who was kidnapped and forced at gunpoint to authorise Marbury's deal. The NBA is full of horrible contracts, all of which needed two signatures, not one.
But we will leave the impending labour strife and lockout for the end of the season because we still have one more year of dancing with the stars in front of us and the NBA folks want you to be as lustful as they are in wishing for a Heat-Lakers final. It is sure to be a ratings bonanza, which is priority number one in the NBA.
Personally, I am a basketball fan which I guess makes me a hater. I am praying that the Celtics meet the Oklahoma City Thunder in the finals. Not only does Oklahoma have a great young nucleus led by perhaps the best and most exciting player in the NBA in Kevin Durant, but it is Oklahoma City which is sort of a contradiction in terms. The only time Jack Nicholson goes near Oklahoma City is when he flies over it. Frankly, it would be just rewards for a league that let a team leave Seattle for Oklahoma two years ago.
Here in Hong Kong, NOW TV recently announced it will be showing a comprehensive package of 350 NBA games this year, including all of the play-offs as well as the finals and most of it will be in glorious high definition. It is great news for me because I do prefer my hate in high def. More importantly though, I prefer my love in high def as well.