Look closer: NBA, Nike stores demonstrate underpromotion of Durant

Hovering

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 don’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.

So cool

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 he’s wearing Jordans and they were selling his jersey. Granted, Paul isn’t actually on this summer’s World Championships roster, a developing theme here.

Varejao looking impressive, for once

They had one of these huge caricatures for Brazil, looking like it’s probably meant to be Anderson Varejao. Oddly, the pose is Varejao hitting a layup rather than what he’s usually doing, flopping all over the court.

Better off red

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. I’m not sure who’d chump themselves with a Yi jersey, but the presentation is terrific. I’d love to have one of those wood boxes at the top there. I’m not sure what I’d do with it, probably keep comic books in it or something, but it’s pretty sweet.

Intricate

Here’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 – like Jay Williams’ Rising Stars Foundation? What say you, Nike?

sneaks

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 you’re somehow from Angola? Covered.

Not playing

Here are jerseys of two guys who won’t actually be playing for their countries this summer. And yet they didn’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 they’re selling. I’ll elaborate shortly.

Center of it all

From the fourth floor, there was an excellent view of the caricature featured in most of their advertisements – clearly intended to be Durant, though it sort of resembled Tayshaun Prince. And yet, I’ll reiterate, I was unable to cop Durant’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. It’s sort of a basketball summer, especially in New York City, and you’d expect them to embrace that a little more.

In a similar vein, though they had authentic Amar’e Stoudemire jerseys, they told me it would be a month or two before their factories overseas created swingmans, which I prefer (they’re lighter and more cost-effective). Another example of the NBA dropping the ball, with considerable buzz around Amar’e signing with the Knicks and embracing Judaism this summer. If the league orders a rush on it, you think they can’t get it? I would have bought it on the spot, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

Ariza's going to keep this guy in New Orleans?

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, who’s not playing this summer.

Looks weird

I talked to some employees in the store, who said authentic LeBron jerseys were selling briskly. We all agreed that it clearly doesn’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 I’ll be damned if that isn’t how I’d market LeBron going forward. Look for a post on this soon.

Rooks

They didn’t really have the key rookies from this year’s draft in a high profile area, but they did have them out in the open, at least. I’d stick Wall right out front, I think it’d sell. Unlike the Nets, they resisted the urge to put their Favors jerseys behind a rack of Troy Murphy models.

Blazers blowout 

Two Blazers jerseys were on sale: Greg Oden – still technically on the team, but perpetually hurt – and Rudy Fernandez, who hasn’t been traded yet but has been the subject of rumors all summer. A little editorializing by the NBA Store.

Lots of these Jerebko shirts left

Interesting selection of player tees on this rack. Dirk Nowitzki makes sense, but Arenas isn’t what’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 I’ve seen in a minute, as the NBA seems to be attempting to tap into the apparently lucrative Swedish market.

I was the only person checking out this rack

Here’s the Summer of 2010 sale rack – Suns Amar’e jerseys, Chris Bosh Raptors and so on. I was disappointed to find no Pistons Amir Johnson or Warriors Anthony Tolliver.

Punching bag, Bates Motel neon sign in the back

Despite no Durant jerseys in stock and no desire to wear players who aren’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.

Captain Spaulding approved

…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, I’ve long thought the NBA wasn’t pushing Durant the way it could be. Durant is likeable, led the league in scoring this year and took Kobe’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 aren’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? They’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 – 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 they’ve been propping up all these years is myopic.

I understand people will still buy the Kobe/LeBron jerseys, especially if they don’t know those guys aren’t actually playing. But it’s not too early to indoctrinate Durant into that group.

I mean, he’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 they’re not taking full advantage of.

Durant is hands-down the breakout star of the summer – the anti-LeBron, if you will.

And Nike needs to update their archaic, formulaic marketing ideas and fully embrace that.

Esoteric

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