What We’re Looking Forward To in 2021


Jonathan A. Knee is a professor of professional practice at Columbia Business School and a senior advisor to Evercore. His next book, “The Platform Delusion: Who Wins and Who Loses in the Age of Tech Titans,” is due out in September. He recently wrote about Silicon Valley culture for DealBook.


Dec. Dec. 24, 2020 at 7:51 am ET

The convergence of protests against racial justice, a pandemic that eradicated the masses in the arenas, and a broadcasting industry increasingly reliant on live sports provides an opportune moment to tell the story of the emergence of the NBA as a cultural and economic force tell how some new books try. The new season, the 75th, also started this week.

In 1976, when the league signed its rival, the American Basketball Association, the sport was viewed as a frontier sport with relatively few television games. CBS, which then owned the rights, routinely broadcast games on delayed tape to avoid conflicts with popular series such as “Dallas” and “The Dukes of Hazzard”. Today that would be unthinkable for Turner Broadcasting and ESPN as part of their $ 24 billion rights deal that runs through the 2024-25 season and nearly tripled payments under the previous agreement.

Although the NFL dominates national rights revenue and viewership, the NBA has had far more success internationally. And culturally, the basketball league has long played a bigger role in music, fashion and beyond. The stark contrast between the early adoption of the Black Lives Matter movement and the NFL’s initially hostile approach reflected the different demographics not of the players – the athletes in both leagues are predominantly black – but of the management and owner groups.

The development of the NBA to a central role in the media economy and in social activism has important implications for business and politics. That makes the story of journalist Pete Croatto “From Hang Time to Prime Time: Business, Entertainment and the Birth of the Modern NBA” contemporary but frustrating.

The book begins with former LA Laker Derek Fisher’s 2017 debut on “Dancing with the Stars,” to highlight the mainstream relevance of basketball, but there are many better examples. Mr Croatto’s decisions could be due to his lack of access to personalities like former NBA commissioner David Stern, who passed away earlier this year, or stars like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. Mr. Stern’s innovative strategy of highlighting individual personalities (and rivalries in the case of Bird and Magic) sparked greater interest in the game, while Mr. Jordan’s personal partnership with Nike took the NBA’s ambitions to another level.