The NBA in general does an excellent job of promoting their stars, but with Team USA and the World Basketball Festival in town, this weekend proved to me that they donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t fully comprehend just how valuable Kevin Durant has become.
As a longtime supporter of Team USA, I decided to spend Sunday checking out what a couple of notable New York City retailers had going on. In the spirit of my last trip to the NBA Store, here are some of my favorite images.
I started at NikeTown, where they always do a tremendous job hyping up whatever big event is going on, and considering the World Basketball Festival is an event created and promoted by Nike, they went all-out with their display.
Nike hung caricatures of players for a few different countries from the ceiling, suspended down across the four levels of the store. The Team USA figure front and center I think is intended to be Chris Paul, given that heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s wearing Jordans and they were selling his jersey. Granted, Paul isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t actually on this summerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s World Championships roster, a developing theme here.
They had one of these huge caricatures for Brazil, looking like itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s probably meant to be Anderson Varejao. Oddly, the pose is Varejao hitting a layup rather than what heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s usually doing, flopping all over the court.
NikeTown had displays for the countries they were featuring, clearly carefully selected to sell gear to tourists of different nationalities. With Yao Ming not operational, they were forced to sell jerseys of Yi Jianlian, and the best they could do for Puerto Rico was apparently Carlos Arroyo. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not sure whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d chump themselves with a Yi jersey, but the presentation is terrific. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d love to have one of those wood boxes at the top there. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not sure what IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d do with it, probably keep comic books in it or something, but itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pretty sweet.
HereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a Team USA caricature suspended over a bunch of basketballs, a cool visual. They might have this in mind already, but at the end of this promotion, instead of throwing them in a storeroom or something, how about they donate the balls to a program that could really use them Ã¢â‚¬â€œ like Jay WilliamsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Rising Stars Foundation? What say you, Nike?
The main sneaker wall downstairs was attractively laid out with country- and player-specific Nike kicks, including my personal favorite, the Durant model Hyperfuse. The sheer variety of colors/countries was impressive. If you wanted a pair of Brazil or Puerto Rico kicks, NikeTown has you covered. If youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re somehow from Angola? Covered.
Here are jerseys of two guys who wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t actually be playing for their countries this summer. And yet they didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have Durant. The display is cool, but this is sort of where my issues start with Nike/USA Basketball in terms of the product theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re selling. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll elaborate shortly.
From the fourth floor, there was an excellent view of the caricature featured in most of their advertisements Ã¢â‚¬â€œ clearly intended to be Durant, though it sort of resembled Tayshaun Prince. And yet, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll reiterate, I was unable to cop DurantÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s jersey.
From there, it was just a couple short blocks to the NBA Store, where I expected a huge display right upon entering similar to what Nike had. But I had to go deep into the store to find the Team USA and World Championships gear.
Perhaps the reason is that Nike makes the WC gear instead of Adidas, the official sponsor of the NBA, but I still thought the flagship store of the league in the biggest city in America should have made this stuff more visible. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sort of a basketball summer, especially in New York City, and youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d expect them to embrace that a little more.
In a similar vein, though they had authentic AmarÃ¢â‚¬â„¢e Stoudemire jerseys, they told me it would be a month or two before their factories overseas created swingmans, which I prefer (theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re lighter and more cost-effective). Another example of the NBA dropping the ball, with considerable buzz around AmarÃ¢â‚¬â„¢e signing with the Knicks and embracing Judaism this summer. If the league orders a rush on it, you think they canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get it? I would have bought it on the spot, and IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m sure IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not alone.
The Team USA jerseys are quite nice, but it was the same lousy inventory at the NBA Store as I saw at NikeTown. For example, Chris Paul, whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not playing this summer.
I talked to some employees in the store, who said authentic LeBron jerseys were selling briskly. We all agreed that it clearly doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t matter that everyone hates him in New York to the point that he gets booed on the street. Some people want to buy this and play the villain. And IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be damned if that isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t how IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d market LeBron going forward. Look for a post on this soon.
They didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really have the key rookies from this yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s draft in a high profile area, but they did have them out in the open, at least. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d stick Wall right out front, I think itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d sell. Unlike the Nets, they resisted the urge to put their Favors jerseys behind a rack of Troy Murphy models.
Two Blazers jerseys were on sale: Greg Oden Ã¢â‚¬â€œ still technically on the team, but perpetually hurt Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and Rudy Fernandez, who hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t been traded yet but has been the subject of rumors all summer. A little editorializing by the NBA Store.
Interesting selection of player tees on this rack. Dirk Nowitzki makes sense, but Arenas isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s really good right now, especially at full price. I was tempted to pick up the Jonas Jerebko model, which has to be the most obscure player tee IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve seen in a minute, as the NBA seems to be attempting to tap into the apparently lucrative Swedish market.
HereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the Summer of 2010 sale rack Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Suns AmarÃ¢â‚¬â„¢e jerseys, Chris Bosh Raptors and so on. I was disappointed to find no Pistons Amir Johnson or Warriors Anthony Tolliver.
Despite no Durant jerseys in stock and no desire to wear players who arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t actually on the team, I still ended up with some Team USA stuff. The first, one of the coolest birthday presents ever, was a totally sweet warmup jacket.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¦and I treated myself to the Team USA Kobe V.
Nobody promotes the game of basketball like Nike, which has done a great job of inventing this World Basketball Festival and making it seem like a landmark event, with exhibitions and Jay-Z concerts and such.
But the fly in the ointment is that even before this week, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve long thought the NBA wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t pushing Durant the way it could be. Durant is likeable, led the league in scoring this year and took KobeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Lakers to the limit in the playoffs. Where was his national marketing campaign?
I mean, consider this: NikeTown and the NBA Store have Team USA jerseys of LeBron, Paul, Dwyane Wade and Kobe, none of whom are actually playing this summer and arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t guaranteed to play in the 2012 Olympics.
They have Tony Parker: Not playing for France.
They have Arroyo and Yi: Both are playing, but who cares?
A Joel Anthony Canada jersey? TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d even have been better served making Andy Rautins, who was at least drafted by the Knicks and played at a Big East school.
Meanwhile, Durant was everywhere yesterday, interviewed by every major media market. While the general public has soured on LeBron and his ego this summer, the groundswell of support for Durant is steadily growing. People appreciate that while LeBron was signing with the Heat on national television, Durant quietly Twittered that he had signed an extension, then went to go work out.
We can relate to this guy Ã¢â‚¬â€œ well, as much as we can for any pro athlete.
So how could they not be selling his Team USA jersey at this very moment? When he plays France in the Garden on Sunday, the image on television should have been a sea of Durant jerseys to help usher him toward Kobe/LeBron levels of superstardom. To only push the usual guys theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been propping up all these years is myopic.
I understand people will still buy the Kobe/LeBron jerseys, especially if they donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know those guys arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t actually playing. But itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not too early to indoctrinate Durant into that group.
I mean, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a Nike guy!
I just feel like Nike and the NBA need to get up to speed and realize what they have on their hands here: a likeable superstar theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not taking full advantage of.
Durant is hands-down the breakout star of the summer Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the anti-LeBron, if you will.
And Nike needs to update their archaic, formulaic marketing ideas and fully embrace that.