Friday, December 12, 2008

Simmons/Stern Interview Notes

I thought that the Bill Simmons podcast interview with David Stern this week was quite good. In addition to hinting at remorse over the Seattle situation for the first time, the commissioner was also quite forthcoming in answering Bill's random assortment of questions relating to Stern's 25 years of service (as of Feb. 1, 2009).

I thought that these answers were among the most interesting:
    Simmons: Who's your favorite owner? The guy that you point to and say, "That's how you run a team."

    Stern: I actually have three favorites: Bill Davidson [Pistons], Abe Pollin [Wizards] and Larry Miller [Jazz].
I doubt that there is much objection to this answer in either Michigan or Utah, as Davidson built the league's model arena (among many other things), and Miller has been a model for sustained small-market success. However, I'm sure that there are some guffaws of disbelief around the nation's capital that Pollin would be included in such an answer.
    Simmons: What's the one decision that you'd like a mulligan on, that you wish you could do over?

    Stern: I wish we hadn't had the Vancouver experience.

    Simmons: For what reason?

    Stern: Great city and we disappointed them and we disappointed ourselves.... I think that was a great city.... We didn't take advantage of the opportunity. Maybe we shouldn't have done it there - maybe we should have only gone into Toronto, and not Vancouver.... But that's a great disappointment to me.
I agree with this one across the board. I'm a Seattle resident who thinks Vancouver is one of the great cities in the world, and I loved having an excuse to make an annual trip up to catch a Grizzlies game.

I've always believed that Vancouver could have been a successful NBA city, but there were three main problems that plagued the franchise:

Abject on-court failure. I mean, maybe it's obvious, but really, I think you forget just how poorly this team performed. Take a look. In six seasons, they never won more than 23 games, never had a winning percentage above .280.

Think of the pathetic franchises in the league - they were never close to this bad. Charlotte has won 33 and 32 games the last two years. Even the patehtic Clippers have never gone more than *three* consecutive seasons winning fewer than 30 games. The Grizzlies went *six* seasons winning no more than 23.

They never gave their fans even a glimmer of hope that they were improving, that they were merely bad instead of awful. Even a season of wins in the low-30s would have been a huge help. Mere mediocrity would have been a godsend! Think of it: a 35-win season would have been huge for them!

Lack of marketing focus. The demographics of Vancouver are unique in that there is a huge community of recent immigrants from Asia, many who came over from Hong Kong after the British handed it back to the Chinese.

I've always thought the Grizzlies failed by not making this community a target of their marketing efforts for the following reasons:

1. The NBA has had great success not only in attracting fans in Asia itself, but also Asian-American fans as well. Some of the most rabid fan bases in the league - Lakers, Warriors, Raptors - are teams which have a substantial base of Asian-American fans (or Asian-Canadian fans!).

2. I thought that targeting this demographic was doubly attractive because they were new to Canada. Vancouver is a Canucks town through and through. For people who were established Canucks fans, the Grizzlies were *never* going to be the no. 1 team in town. Never.

That's the thing - by targeting the immigrant community, I thought they had the chance to not only capture fans (and a largely affluent base at that), but also to capture fans who would be Grizzlies fans first and foremost, which seemed especially valuable, and otherwise challenging in the Vancouver winter-sports market.

Never got a galvanizing player. The reality is that you sometimes need a little luck - something that helps galvanize a city. Usually, it's simply getting the right player to galvanize the fan base.

Many wondered if Toronto would be a successful NBA franchise... until Vince Carter entered the league spectacularly and galvanized the fan base. Chris Paul seems to have done the same in New Orleans.

Vancouver never found the right player. Passing on trades for B.C. native Steve Nash were certainly major missed opportunities. And they never just got lucky at the draft by falling into the right player - Yao Ming (who was drafted after the franchise left) would have been the ideal, given the demographics expressed above.

And alas, where there was once a bounty of NBA action for the fan in the Northwest, now there is just one team left standing....

***********

Quick programming note: Thursday's Euroleague matchup between Ricky Rubio/DKV Joventut and Brandon Jennings/Lottomatica Roma did not materialize into much of a duel, as Rubio is still recovering from a wrist injury and played just eight minutes. Jennings, however, did seem to play well with 12 points and 2 assists in 23 minutes.

In any event, just wanted to pass along the programming note that the game is being broadcast on NBA TV on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT.

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