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Take it away, Pete. The NBA in its early days in the 1940s 1950s was really a regional league. It was a league whose teams were based in the Midwest and the East Coast.
The furthest team West was Saint Louis. So it really was a regional league and it was a league that really struggled for mainstream acceptance. For years, it had trouble getting a favorable national television contract. For years, it played in arenas that really were antiquated or run down.
Nowhere close to the entertainment meccas that we see today. It really was a second-tier professional league. Baseball had always been America's game.
Its roots were established for years and years and years and the NFL had gained a foothold with television thanks to the 1958 NFL Championship game, which was the league's first overtime game. The NBA didn't really have anything like that. It was really an afterthought to college basketball, which was huge in the 1950s and even to the Harlem Globetrotters.
In fact, NBA games typically were the previews or the first act, so to speak, to Harlem Globetrotter games, to college basketball games, especially in New York City. And if you read player autobiographies or player biographies from the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, a lot of these players had second jobs. You know, they had other business interests. They were making exorbitant salaries. You know, now if you sign a professional contract as a highly-tited rookie with any of the four major sports, you're pretty much set for life.
Back then, that wasn't the case. So the NBA in the 1940s, 50s, even into the 1960s was a league that was looking for relevance. It was looking for a foothold into America's sporting culture. The NBA needed to make a leap to become legitimate and by putting Larry O'Brien in that position, it is the first step towards saying, hey, we're a business.
We mean business. Larry O'Brien was a major fixture in Democratic national politics. He was somebody who, as time goes on, I think we've forgotten just what a political figure he was in the 1950s into the early 1970s.
Larry O'Brien was part of JFK's Irish Mafia. He basically helped JFK get to the White House. He was on the plane coming back from Dallas after JFK was assassinated. After that, he was a member of Lyndon B Johnson's cabinet. He was Postmaster General and then after that, he was the chairman of the Democratic National Committee for two terms. He was on the cover of Time Magazine.
So, he was somebody who was a major, major figure in national politics. But Larry O'Brien by the time the 19, the mid 1970s roll around, he had become a relic. He's retired for the most part. He is somebody who is really looking for something to do and when J Walter Kennedy decides that he's had enough being the NBA's commissioner, he looks to Larry O'Brien. He reaches out to Larry O'Brien specifically to ask him to take over and Larry O'Brien says no because the thing, here's the thing. Now, when someone is elected to be the commissioner of a sports league, that is a career pinnacle for Roger Goodell at the NFL, for Rob Manfred at Major League Baseball, Gary Bettman at the NHL.
That is a pinnacle. When you die, they lead your obituary with the fact that you are the commissioner of the NHL or Major League Baseball. For Larry O'Brien, this was a step down. So, the NBA really courted him because for two reasons.
First, they knew that he was a basketball fan because he was someone who grew up watching the Celtics. He had season tickets to the Knicks but Larry O'Brien was also somebody who was gonna give the league instant credibility and the NBA ultimately won Larry O'Brien over after numerous attempts because they convinced him, look, you'll have absolute power here. This isn't gonna be a real figurehead position.
You'll actually be able to do things here. You'll be able to make decisions and carry out policy. You'll have impact and his election as commissioner, his hiring as commissioner was significant for two reasons. First, he gives the NBA, as I mentioned before, instant credibility.
This is a league that was really struggling for national relevance. It was struggling to become a player and Larry O'Brien gave the NBA cachet. It was headline news that he was that he was the NBA commissioner.
It made people take notice. So, there's that and the second thing is is that he brings order to the NBA. The heads of the NBA before Larry O'Brien, Maurice Podoloff, and J Walter Kennedy. They came of age with the NBA. They were ingrained in the NBA. They didn't have outside influence and Larry O'Brien came in and he was not associated with the NBA. He didn't have allegiances. He was somebody who just wanted what was best for the NBA.
So, he came in with no biases. He was his own man and he also had the ability, the ability to manage. Larry O'Brien ran the best meetings and that may not sound like much but you have to understand that meetings before in the in the fifties and sixties were contentious, bickering affairs, kinda like a Thanksgiving dinner with different political opinions being bandied back and forth. So, Larry O'Brien coming in and just saying, look, this is what we're doing.
We're just gonna get down to brass tacks. It doesn't sound like much but for a league that couldn't get out of its own way, it was huge. This really comes across in the NBA's absorption of the ABA, the American Basketball Association because Larry O'Brien, you know, just wanted to get the deal done and when when the two leagues were meeting to try and figure out how to what teams to absorb and what what money should change hands. You know, the the meetings are going on and on in 1976 and in the closing days, Larry O'Brien just says to the owners, look, up or down. Meaning, we could stay here and bicker about these contracts or you can take the money, get into a plane, cash your checks, and make a small fortune before the day's ends and for the ABA which had a lot of bankrupt owners and financially struggling owners, Larry O'Brien was able to just distill their problem into a simple question, up or down and that's what the NBA needed. The NBA needed someone to just get down to the brass tacks of running a business but one of his greatest gifts wasn't so much policy he enacted or edicts that he handed down though he did his fair share. What Larry O'Brien did was he recognized his talent and he could delegate and one thing that he did is that he hired a young lawyer who was outside council for the NBA named David Stern and he bought him in as his second in command and David Stern later went on to become the MA commissioner and in my mind is the most influential sports commissioner of the last 50 years. So, Larry O'Brien's ability to recognize David Stern as somebody who could do the dirty work, who could get to know the GMs and the team owners and the union representatives. Having David Stern clear a path and basically get a five-year start to become the commissioner of the NBA.
That was Larry O'Brien's greatest legacy and I think that's why he is one of the most overlooked figures in the rise of the NBA. And we're listening to Pete Croato telling the story of the NBA and what's so interesting about this take is he's looking at it from a business angle. No business of sports. No sports. No business of entertainment. No entertainment.
Capitalism in this way fuels so many of the pleasures of our daily life. In the 40s and 50s, well, the league didn't extend past Saint Louis. Good luck with the TV contract. In the old days, NBA players had summer jobs. And then comes Larry O'Brien and then comes David Stern, his second in command.
When we come back, more of the remarkable story of the NBA with Pete Croato, author of From Hangtime to Prime Time, here on Our American Story. Roku TV is the smart TV made easy. The customizable home screen puts your inputs, streaming favorites like iHeart and free live TV all in one place. From simple settings, anyone can understand, automatic updates with the latest features, and much more. Roku TV is more than a smart TV.
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Say free this week into your Xfinity voice remote. Nissan is driving the thrill of its vehicle's innovative design to the spotlight in Thrilling Design, the brand's latest campaign. Nissan dares to design what others won't by approaching each project in a completely different way.
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To learn more about the design and innovation at Nissan, visit www.NissanUSA.com. And we return to our American stories and the story of the NBA. When we last left off, NBA commissioner Larry O'Brien had hired a young lawyer by the name of David Stern to be his second in command, and Stern himself would soon take over Larry's job, changing the NBA forever.
Here again is Pete Croato. Larry was one of those bosses where he came in at 9 o'clock. He went to his office, shut the door, and you saw him at 5 o'clock. David Stern was everywhere. He was at the arenas. He was talking to the GMs. He was talking to the press. He was talking to the networks that aired NBA games. So every week, David Stern would go on a conference call with the broadcast crew at USA Network, the cable station that aired NBA games, and there's one meeting where David Stern says, look guys, focus on the stars. Don't worry about the records.
Don't worry about who's winning or who's losing. Focus on the stars. If it's a terrible matchup, let's say the Clippers are playing the Celtics, let's say. Focus on John Havlicek.
Focus on Dave Cowens. They're folks that people know and that to me was David Stern's genius was that he was able to recognize that to generate interest, he had to identify ways for Joe and Jane Publick to watch a basketball game beyond two minutes and that was the stars. That was with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and Julius Erving. Focus on them and that star system is what sustained the NBA and what sustains it to this day. That is David Stern's baby and it comes about in a number of ways. First is the establishment of NBA Entertainment, which is what David Stern creates. So, NBA Entertainment becomes this sort of archive of game footage and player interviews and all this material gets culled into halftime features and advertisements that extol the best and brightest of the NBA. Later on, NBA Entertainment takes all this footage that they've stored from games and and whatnot and they turn that into videos highlighting players. So, you have a Michael Jordan video cassette. You have a Magic Johnson video cassette.
You have a Larry Bird video cassette. David Stern partners with the television station, specifically with CBS and comes up with a game plan. Each game was going to have at least two players. Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Magic Johnson. Because that's who the casual fans wanted to see.
They wanted to see stars. So, you have NBA Entertainment, you have the television coverage, and you also have NBA Properties, which again is a David Stern-led development, which focuses on apparel that focuses on players. Players faces what they do. So, you know, it's not just getting a 76ers t-shirt. It's getting a Julius Erving t-shirt. It's getting a Charles Barkley t-shirt. It's getting a Magic Johnson hat or a Magic Johnson sweatshirt. So, it is a multi-pronged attack that David Stern leads. And it all comes down to the players.
Because think of it this way. Kids, I think, get their sports teams from their parents, right? Or from their grandparents or from their family or from allegiances in town. If you are somebody who's getting into the NBA as a lone wolf, like I was, I had parents who were not particularly not really sports fans.
You know, my parents didn't know what hand a baseball club went on. You're going to gravitate toward players then go toward a team. And if you know the players through commercials, if you highlight their best attributes like Magic Johnson's smile or Larry Bird's competitiveness, you are going to win people over. And it also helps if you work with a television network like CBS and CBS Sports that knows how to frame the games as television dramas. When you have Magic versus Larry, you're not just focusing on these two great players. You're focusing on the two Sterling franchises of the NBA and the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers.
You're focusing on East versus West and you're turning all those components into a narrative that anybody can get behind. So the NBA Finals, any NBA game isn't just a sporting event. It becomes an episode of television where the same way that if you watch a television pilot, you get the characters, you get the storyline, and you get, you know, a happy ending or an ending.
The same thing happens with NBA games on CBS. You get a beginning, middle, and end. You get a flashy introduction. You're caught up to speed with where things are and then you get a game that is filmed almost like a movie with quick cuts and close-ups and reaction shots. You get personality into the game and that personality bleeds through every product, whether it's a VHS tape, whether it's a t-shirt, doesn't matter what it is. Because as David Stern said, it's not what people think about you.
It's how they feel about you. That is the mantra of the NBA. It is an emotional league and that is the lifeline for the NBA's story for its success over the past 35, 40 years. But Marvin Gaye's national anthem at the 1983 NBA All Star Game in Los Angeles to me is a pivotal point in the NBA's history because that's when the NBA became the world's cool sport. You have to remember that for the longest time, the national anthem was performed in a very straight ahead fashion.
But Marvin Gaye's national anthem comes at the right time. It's when hip-hop is making its way into the American culture and it's also a major cultural figure in Marvin Gaye, who's Motown and sexual healing, singing the song and it's also the sign that the NBA wasn't gonna play by the rules of the NFL, of Major League Baseball. It was gonna do its own thing because here was an unabashedly African-American version of that song that reflected who was on the court. You had a majority of African-American players playing, but it also represented what you saw on the court in terms of style of play.
That national anthem, if anyone hasn't heard it, is a soulful, stirring rendition that incorporates R&B, gospel, he's singing it over a pre-recorded beat. It reflected what the NBA was and what it could be. It was a cool sport. It wasn't a sport for your mom and your dad and your grandma and your grandpa. It was a sport that was for the cool kids at the table, for the teenagers, for the young Americans who wanted something different, that wanted something that was hip, that belonged to them. And that national anthem set the stage for everything that happened afterward in the NBA's cultural history because it was defiantly non-traditional, but in a way that was entertaining and fun and exciting and different.
And for any young sports fan who growing up in that era and afterward, that's what the NBA represented when you first saw a basketball team. It represented something different. The players looked different. They carried themselves in a different way. The game was filmed differently. The players did things differently.
They talked differently. That anthem also changed the way the NBA organized its all-star game. It became more than just East versus West, your best versus my best. It also became what can we do to give the audience the best time possible? So Marvin Gaye in a lot of ways launched a business revolution. And you've been listening to Pete Croato tell a heck of a story about the NBA and we're huge hoops fans in my house.
Heck, when I was a kid, I did Bobby Knight's camp, captain of my high school basketball team twice. And to hear this story told so well by someone like Pete, well, it brings back a lot of memories. When we come back, more of Pete Croato on the story of not only Larry O'Brien, but how David Stern helped turn the NBA into the cool game, the cool thing in American culture. With so many streaming devices out there today, what sets Roku apart? Roku players are made for one thing, to get you the entertainment you want quick and easy. That means a simple home screen with your favorites front and center, channels like iHeartRadio that launch in a snap, and curated selections of TV for when you only sort of know what to watch. Not to mention all the free TV you can stream, including over 300 free live channels on the Roku channel. Find the perfect Roku player for you today at Roku.com.
Happy streaming. Week after week Xfinity Flex unlocks access to premium networks and apps so you can try fresh entertainment for free each and every week. Catch the season premiere of Outlander from Starz. Journey through the sounds of Black Music Month with pics from Lifetime Movie Club and Revolt. Celebrate Pride Month with stories from OutTV and HearTV. Then kick back with nature scenes from Music Choice Relax and jam all June with iHeartRadio's Songs of the Summer Radio. Discover new shows and movies for free, no strings attached.
Say free this week into your Xfinity voice remote. Nissan is driving the thrill of its vehicle's innovative design into the spotlight in Thrilling Design, the brand's latest campaign. Nissan dares to design what others won't by approaching each project in a completely different way.
They break molds and start each design with a specific customer in mind and how this vehicle will bring a unique sense of thrill to the road. The campaign illustrates how Nissan drives to build an exhilarating experience into each model from initial concept to the last bolt, with each design inspired by what moves and thrills you. We get a look into where Nissan draws inspiration for its innovative vehicle lineup and unique models to get a closer look at the thrilling details, features, and silhouettes. The Nissan Z, Ariya, and Rogue models take center stage to show everyday adventures Nissan vehicles can inspire with appearances by the rugged Pathfinder and bold Altima SR as well. Nissan is driving the thrill of its vehicle's innovative design into the spotlight in Thrilling Design, the brand's latest campaign.
To learn more about the design and innovation at Nissan, visit www.NissanUSA.com. And we return to Our American Stories and the final segment on the rise of the National Basketball Association. When we last left off, Pete Croato, author of From Hangtime to Prime Time, was telling us about how David Stern, Marvin Gaye, the television drama of the NBA, and its superstar players launched it into the success it is today. The NBA was at a high point, and they were about to partner with a growing cultural force that would take them even higher.
Here again is Pete Croato. The NBA really started to become a mainstream force in 1979 with the arrival of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. 1979 is also the year that rapper's delight hits the airwaves. Hip-hop, rap, and the overall culture is a youth culture.
It was especially a youth culture in the 1980s into the early 1990s. The NBA has always been about doing what's new, what's relevant. The NBA's tradition is that it has no tradition. So partnering hip-hop with the NBA, or rather the NBA partnering with hip-hop, was really a no-brainer. Hip-hop has a youthful audience that has money to spend and wants something that's new, doesn't want the same old thing, and they don't want to listen to Mick Jagger, the Rolling Stone. They don't want to hear stories about Mickey Mantle and Jim Brown.
They want what's new. The NBA's partnership with hip-hop was a match made in heaven. It's also not surprising because hip-hop really started as a byproduct of city culture. Basketball was a city culture. Basketball is very much a city game. It did take place in gymnasiums, obviously, and it did take place in the suburbs, but basketball's biggest influence is in the cities. You don't need much room to put up a basketball court.
You don't need much room to put up even a hoop. The game really was a way for city kids to assimilate into American culture, especially Jews and African-Americans. So it may seem odd or unusual that the NBA would partner with hip-hop, but really it's not. As the NBA is becoming a youthful hip league that's going mainstream thanks to stars like Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, hip-hop is enjoying the same renaissance. MTV starts playing rap videos. Rap starts to mimic pop songs with choruses and hooks and also incorporating elements of rock music.
For example, Walk This Way, You've Gotta Fight for Your Right to Party. Those songs have hooks that a young fan can get into even if they don't like rap and it's different. It's the new rock and roll and that's that's appealing to kids and also you have artists that now are really more like entertainers coming to the forefront. You have Will Smith, you have MC Hammer, you have God Help Us Vanilla Ice.
They all kind of come into that era. So as the NBA became mainstream, hip-hop became mainstream. That also generates a line of culture and a line of clothing that, specifically sneakers, that hooks not only a young audience, but the players.
So it is a natural marriage of the two. The two go hand in hand even to this day and all the forces aligned with with Michael Jordan and with Nike and with the market and here's why. For a number of years, the NBA stars were always quote unquote model citizens such as Julius Erving, but he packaged his team-oriented stars such as Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, part of a rivalry or they were just boring. So Michael Jordan comes along with a shoe that is quote unquote banned by the NBA. It doesn't look like any shoe you've ever seen.
It's got white and black and red. It is completely foreign and then you have Michael Jordan who embodies the spirit of that shoe because he is a soloist. He is not part of a team. He's not established.
He is brand new. He is marketed as a rebel by going over players, by putting the ball in the hoop in ways that many people have not seen and he can play. He's an extraordinary player and he is somebody that looks good on camera. He's extremely attractive.
He's a manageable height at six foot six. He is a matinee idol for basketball. So all those things come together and turn this shoe into a cultural force. It's not just a shoe. You are buying the 1980s version of the leather jacket or the Davy Crockett hat and when it's embraced by not only basketball fans, but by hip hop artists, by city kids, by whomever and when clothing comes out to match the shoes, the cat's out of the bag. So Michael Jordan really represents the beginning of the of the of the sneaker clothing fashion trend in popular culture. I think because he was somebody who who you could represent who you could aspire to be just by wearing his shoe and if you're a teenager and you want to be rebellious, it's very easy to chalk up $65 or $100 or $150 to become rebellious to become part of a movement, especially when that movement is represented by somebody who is as magnetic, who's as brilliant a player as Michael Jordan is.
It's a very easy association to make and it persists. So if you want to be like Steph Curry or Kevin Durant or god forbid, Kyrie Irving, buying their shoe, buying their pal is a way to get closer to them and Michael Jordan is the start of that. The NBA now is a global business. I mean it is it is worth billions and billions of dollars and it has thousands of employees across the globe.
It is constantly trying to sow its seeds of development in different areas of the world. I mean I think Africa is now the latest continent to come under the NBA's purview. So it is it is just now this behemoth and the NBA is part of our part of our life whether we're online or watching it on TV. I mean it's you know I think most people know know who LeBron James is. They know who Kevin Durant is.
They're cultural institutions. I think we forget that the NBA wasn't always like this. The NBA wasn't always a colossus, an international colossus. What's amazing to me is that the NBA we see today came about because of the efforts of people who love basketball, who just love the NBA and love what it could be. These are people that just work tirelessly to elevate a game that they loved and were passionate about. David Stern, Larry O'Brien, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan. But the NBA's rise is the result of so many people that have fallen into the cracks of history. Men and women like Paul Gilbert, Ed Desser, Bill Fickett, Ted Shaker and Arlene Weltman. These men and women who work tirelessly and sacrificed and sometimes embarrass themselves to turn the NBA into a part of our lives. Their efforts have been have been forgotten and it's a crying shame.
The NBA's rise to success didn't come about because of Michael Jordan, David Stern, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson. It's a story of dozens and dozens of people working together to create what we see today. And a great job on the production by Monty Montgomery and a special thanks to author Pete Corrado.
His book From Hang Time to Prime Time is available on Amazon and the usual suspects and what a story it tells. And it starts early. Baseball was America's pastime. Football second by the late fifties. But it took Larry O'Brien, David Stern, and a bunch of others to put the NBA on the map. And indeed it took some great players too. Bird and Magic also combining with rap music in this remarkable, markable merger of cultural of cultural forces.
The partnership between the two, a match made in heaven as Pete said. Then came Jordan, Nike, and the market. Let's face it, Jordan was a matinee idol, a master salesman, and a virtuoso performer. And the NBA turned into a pop culture force. Indeed, my own daughter, Reagan, for Christmas, one of the Nike Blue North Carolina-era Jordans, proving that he still and the NBA is still a cultural force.
The story of the rise of the NBA, which was formed on this day in history in 1946, here on Our American Stories. Do you want to get away with wearing shorts all the time? On the golf course, at work, on a date? Then you need to try bird dogs. Bird dogs are the first shorts that actually look incredible. They have a super trim tailored fit that look clean enough for you to wear everywhere.
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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-07 04:58:33 / 2023-06-07 05:11:55 / 13