8.18.2009

I Believe in Windows



Miss me? If you want some Protestant assurance that I'm not abandoning the goal of endless written output, regard The Baseline, or spy on me in coffee shops as I draft chapters of the next book. So yes, the blog lies fallows, but it's not dead, and elsewhere I thrive.

But I did want to drop by my own ghastly quarters to reflect upon something David Falk. That sound a lot like Stalin's Writings: A Critical Perspective. Really though, there's at least one really telling passage in this Washington Times ode to a great man, one who might belong to a bygone era where superstars actually needed agents for all-hands-on-deck negotiating (these days, you can get by with a lawyer once the sneaker contract's set). Regardless, here's the quote that got me thinking:

"Michael Jordan is a very good player. Is he the first best player in basketball history? That's arguable," Boland says. "Is he the first best endorser in basketball history? That's not even a question."

Agents and marketers have copied what Falk refers to as the "Jordan blueprint" - a strategy Tiger Woods, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant have tried to replicate. For all that Falk did to launch Jordan's career off the court, the agent says, "Michael Jordan not only made my career, he made my life.


Kind of boring, I know. But consider this: FreeDarko has long trumpeted on-court action as a function of personality, a symbiotic bond, even. Why wouldn't marketing, or at least public persona, be similarly tied into who players are? Not saying there's a direct correlation, and this might be more about the "how" than the "what." Think about it, though: Maybe Jordan didn't just fit "the blueprint," he was able to inhabit it, because of who he is as a player and as a person. Private, kind of boring, single-minded on the court, a natural at keeping the ferocious murder-mask and Southern gentleman-ly countenance.



Falk made Jordan. Fine. It was a feat of tremendous vision. But, in the same way that Jordan's game allowed for a new dynamism of sneaker marketing, didn't the entire package of grown-up MJ make a particular marketing plan possible? Somehow, this template has been treated as if multiple athletes found it tried-and-true at the same time, despite their differences. When in fact, to imitate this plan with Jordan's (real) personality or (capacity for) persona is to put the cart before the horse.

It was never going to work with Kobe, for the simple fact that Bryant and Jordan could not be further apart as people. Beyond the "intensity on the basketball court" thing. Not coincidentally, I think that Kobe's mature game bears less and less resemblance to Jordan as he's given rein to be his own basketball-industrial complex. LeBron, too, will learn soon. He's funny, outgoing, and mystical in ways Jordan never was. You can't just transpose a strategy that presumes blandness, control, and compartmentalization and assume it makes sense with the player. Tiger, fine, maybe.

Some, most likely those out to murder Kobe Bryant in his sleep, will argue that the young Bryant tried to emulate MJ as a player, as a man, and in ways that went deep enough so as to sync him up with the Falk/Jordan plan. The lesson, though, comes in the fact that eventually it came crashing down, and there were cracks in the fissure well before the rape case.

Marketing is a form of style. Let's just admit that, no matter how corporations may see it, you ultimately can only get so far by expecting an individual to fit a strategic plan crafted in someone else's image. Thus, even on that plane in which the lie is common currency, athletes must be themselves in order to do so in a way that's, well, honest enough to stick.

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13 Comments:

At 8/18/2009 2:16 PM, Blogger Andy said...

But if Jordan had never existed, would it have been necessary to invent him?

 
At 8/18/2009 2:19 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

If that were the case, you'd think Magic might have been a pretty good candidate. . .

 
At 8/18/2009 4:01 PM, Blogger Andy said...

Maybe Magic was the prototype, the beta version...But there were a few problems. It all seemed too easy for Magic and the Lakers-- watching Jordan develop as a player and then have the team develop around him made it much more exciting when he finally won the NBA title. Obviously that storyline didn't hurt when it came to turning Michael into the marketing juggernaut he became and still is. (Therefore, according to the Marketing 101 textbook, it must be time for LeBron...)

 
At 8/18/2009 5:10 PM, Blogger Ben said...

Lebron actually fits the mold of Magic better than Jordan. With Magic it was all smiles, and with LBJ things seem very cheerful with the chalk-throwing ritual and creative celebrations and handshakes with teammates.

If anything Kobe could be better cast as the modern marketing equivalent to Lebron. Jordan had a journey to the championship. Many seem to neglect the fact that after Shaq left, Kobe had quite an odyssey to get his fourth ring. Both are also renown for their work ethic and dedication - characteristics portrayed more in Kobe than Lebron.

 
At 8/18/2009 5:36 PM, Blogger walrusoflove said...

we'll look back on marbury as the forebearer of neo-celebrity (even beyond the sports realm). the man is a prophet. method in his madness. the right plan, but the wrong guy, and a few years too early. sacrificed for the sins of lebron and kobe. i find the parallel timing of Lebron's tape cover-up and the marbury incident to be beautiful poetry. anyone who tries to cut and paste any blueprint can never be 'the next anything'....but the 'next one' will eerily follow the path blazed by starbury....history doesn't repeat, but it rhymes (Twain) .....i used to despise marbury but in some weird way it all seems so good and right now.

i really wish i could have seen the reaction of lebron's friends/inner-circle/management team when they saw the marbury streaming ....did it click? ….did the lightbulb even flicker? ....have they heard of the internet? ....the demise of broadcast media and all its implications to 'the first sports billionaire'? ....my guess is no ....and his current endorsement contracts have already determined his path..... the biggest free agent of all time has sold his freedom already .....it will be someone in the next generation that will embody and project into the medium and become the next uber-personality (ex. the flashes we have seen from jennings). I also think it will not necessarily be 'the best player' in the league.....the MVP ….it almost seems to me that it can't be....it will be a more FD-esque player (thinking along the lines of a sheed or arenas)....someone who publicly embraces their weaknesses for the world to see....

BTW: If you have the patience for sports marketing I believe this topic could make for a great FD opus in itself....the macrophenomenal guide to post-scarcity sports economics....

 
At 8/18/2009 9:51 PM, Blogger Andy said...

Who will be the next superstar advertising juggernaut? Kobe, while having some of the characteristics needed, has obvious flaws, including the fact that he plays in LA -- alot of folks have a hard time getting behind players for LA and NYC in any sport. LeBron doesn't do it for me, either. I honestly am beginning to think that Michael may end up being a once in a lifetime thing-- our great-grandchildren may still be buying Air Jordans.

 
At 8/18/2009 9:54 PM, Blogger Teach said...

Walrus: Marbury's antics and LeBron's tape incident, along with Twitter, may have proved this summer that we've already moved past a point where the best player on the court matters the most off it.

Duncan, in his prime, somehow also helped us to arrive at this point. He gets pointed to a lot for being boring and not filling the post-Jordan void the way most wanted it filled, but didn't he, in his best moments, allow us to discover that lesser players are perhaps the more fascinating study or that there's more to the NBA than the bottom line of winning?

And don't forget Artest gave out his phone number this summer, but I'm not sure what exactly he was marketing.

 
At 8/19/2009 2:28 AM, Blogger milaz said...

There is no mold:
"Thus, even on that plane in which the lie is common currency, athletes must be themselves in order to do so in a way that's, well, honest enough to stick."

 
At 8/19/2009 2:57 AM, Blogger luyi.thomas said...

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At 8/19/2009 10:04 AM, Blogger Deckfight said...

"Who will be the next superstar advertising juggernaut?"

That's just it, there wont' be one. It's the whole niche thing. On Twitter & FB I can follow Kevin Love/Brandon Jennings/Beno Udrih/(NAME FAV. ROLE PLAYER HERE)even if a reporter never notices them. They will still influence thousands, though not millions.

Perhaps the "blueprint" was actually laid by our pal, Paul Shirley. Unfettered access from a role player--we saw his thoughts & struggles. He got a book deal, but now all books are being written in 140 characters & blogs.

 
At 8/20/2009 12:10 PM, Blogger cole said...

Yeah, I kinda feel that the days of international, bigger-than-anything pop stars are done.
In the same way that the revolution of the music industry and the rise of "indie" has all but destroyed any hope of, say, another Michael Jackson, I think that there will never be another figure in sports that will have that kind of an impact. It is, as Deckfight is getting at, the era of niche.
That, and of couse, the simple fact that it’s just plain boring when someone tries to apply someone’s unique storyline or business strategy to themselves and expects it to work (think: bad advertising campaigns that knock off the iPod silhouette dancers, or ANYTHING with that starts with "Got" and ends with a "?"). It's inauthentic, like a bad Disney sequel animated in Australia with B-class (or less) voice actors.
LeBron's trying too hard. His effort to become the next MJ or whatever reeks of corporate America. While there may have been a lot of planning behind the scenes in creating Michael Jordan as we know him today, it all felt so natural. His Image grew along side his on-court mastery, and because it all felt like it was unfolding in front of us in real time, there was drama and personal appeal. People remember where they were when "X" happened. I remember LBJs first break-away dunk, but it's no monument in my life. Who cares? Jordan collapsing on the court, cradling the ball, sobbing after he defeated my Sonics in the finals, though… even I recognized we were in the presence of Divine Will—MJ's or otherwise.

 
At 8/20/2009 9:32 PM, Blogger Teach said...

cole: The marketing of LBJ does sometimes feel like the cart has come before the horse, but would it be different if the marketing of LBJ didn't always promote him as the best, coolest, or biggest star of the game?

I guess what I'm saying is that the recent Nike "Hyperize" campaign doesn't force anything on its audience. The ad is brilliant and shows off a group of second-tier stars, and it works because none of them are being promoted as individuals. This campaign doesn't ask us to buy into these guys any differently than we already did, but the Kobe-LBJ puppets attempted to create a rivalry out of nothing.

 
At 8/26/2009 8:02 AM, Blogger greg said...

Cole: "While there may have been a lot of planning behind the scenes in creating Michael Jordan as we know him today, it all felt so natural. His Image grew along side his on-court mastery, and because it all felt like it was unfolding in front of us in real time, there was drama and personal appeal"

It definitely felt like that for me (even in my remote little Switzerland), but I was 14 when MJ won his first title. I wonder if teenagers feel the same today with LBJ?

More than the difference between these players and their advertising campaigns, I think that that kind of imprint is unique for each of us. It was MJ for us back then, it is LeBron for nowadays teenagers.

As adults we now see all the "planning behind the scenes", but for a lot of 14 years old now, LeBron IS the best, coolest and strongest basketball player of all times. In 20 years when Nike will be pushing their new hero, they'll have the same arguments as we have today...

 

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