NBA Went Woke, Ratings Go Broke

8 Jul 2021

CLAY: One of my mantras for a substantial period of time has been, “Get woke; go broke,” and one of the best metaphors to use that overall concept and prove it has turned out to be the NBA. Some of you are basketball fans. Some of you are sports fans. Some of you are not.

But I do think the analogy that applies here is fascinating, because no sports league has become more political and more left wing in the history of our nation than the NBA has over the past couple of years. And for those of you who didn’t pay attention, last year they put “Black Lives Matter” on the basketball court.

They refused, players did, to play games after Jacob Blake was justifiably shot by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. And this year they have continued to build on that negative connection — in many people’s minds — associated with left-wing politics. They took names off jerseys and instead started to put social justice warrior slogans on them.

Of course, they’ve continued to pocket billions of dollars from China. The hypocrisy is mind-numbing. LeBron James says that there’s a lot of problems with the First Amendment in this country, solely so he can make sure that Space Jam 2 ends up playing in Beijing. LeBron James says he’ll never “shut up and dribble,” unless China’s asking him to shut up and dribble and then he’s very happy to do so.

All of these hypocrisies have turned off a huge number of people that otherwise were consuming the NBA’s product, and the ratings are telling us that story. The data is clear, transparent, and does not lie. Now, for a long time Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, they built the NBA up, Buck Sexton.

To the point where, when Michael Jordan played in 1998, over 30 million people were watching his Chicago Bulls play against the Utah Jazz back in 1998. Since that time, we have added 50 million people to the United States, and the numbers have now come out for the NBA Finals, and these are the second worst in the modern era that they have ever been.

Only 8.5 million people watched the NBA on Tuesday night, game 1 of the series. That is a monstrous decline, going back to 2018, Buck. That is down a full 50% in the space of just a couple of years. And that is down 75-some-odd percent from the number of people who were watching Michael Jordan play. This is a seismic disaster for the NBA.

Not surprisingly, when people like me share this story — the “get woke, go broke” narrative, which is 100% supported by the data — the people in the world of sports who tend to be NBA apologists, they don’t want to face the numbers, and so they pretend that this data is not real.

To me it’s transparent and it’s clear, and I guarantee you… You can weigh in if this has been you, 800-282-2882. I think a ton of people who like basketball and love sports have just said sayonara to the NBA over politics. And I know back in the nineties, you were a Knicks fan, Buck.

You paid attention to that era of the NBA when it was absolutely in its heyday, the Michael Jordan era, going up against the Knicks, the Jazz — back in the day, the SuperSonics — all these different teams that were trying to get past the Bulls. It was a beloved American institution when Michael Jordan was there. LeBron James has destroyed the brand of the NBA, and they are now reaping the politics of what they have sown.

BUCK: And yet when I go to find, Clay, on the internet, the first story… I’m just looking to find out about the ratings ’cause I’m somebody you brought up, I used to watch the NBA growing up. I used to go to games in Madison Square Garden as a kid, I went to with my dad, my family. I was a big Knicks fan. I actually loved, after that, the Sacramento Kings, randomly, when they had…

CLAY: Oh yeah.

BUCK: Who was it?

CLAY: Chris Webber.

BUCK: Stojakovic, Divac, Bibby. That was a super fun team to watch, and their battles with the Lakers. By the way, they were better than the Lakers and should have beat them in that one final. They got robbed by bad refs. Anyway! But I used to be into it. So I feel like I can speak to it from this perspective. I will not watch the NBA — period, full stop — under any circumstances.

CLAY: Is that political based for you, or had you sworn off it before the politics began?

BUCK: I’d say it’s 75% politics —

CLAY: Yeah.

BUCK: — and 25%, I also just think that it’s the product. I think it’s a lot of guys doing a little a three-point shooting contest.

CLAY: Yes.

BUCK: (chuckles) But that’s neither here nor there.

CLAY: But it’s 75% political for you.

BUCK: Yes.

CLAY: If they had not gone political, you would be far more likely to care about the NBA.

BUCK: Why do sports, for a casual fan like me…? I mean, obviously, Clay, you’re a sports guy through and through. But for the casual fan like me, one of the great things about it — and I think that we’ve lost something very fundamental as a result of this. You have these things in America that we can all celebrate and like together.

CLAY: Yes.

BUCK: You could talk to anybody. They’re unifiers. They are places we come together. And you can have fun rivalries, like when I sit here if I were a big Yankees fan; I makes jokes about the Red Sox.

CLAY: That’s right.

BUCK: It’s fun to joke around with Boston folks about this, and it’s essentially commonality and it’s comradeship and camaraderie. “Comradeship” sounds a little Soviet. Sorry.

CLAY: (chuckles)

BUCK: It’s camaraderie, and the NBA just decided as a league… I mean, it’s not like it’s just one player. As a league they decided to sort of stick the thumb in the eye of folks like me who I don’t want politics in sports, period.

CLAY: Yeah.

BUCK: I certainly don’t want people acting like a bunch of overpaid babies trashing law enforcement and spreading lies. I mean, when LeBron James shared, what was it, that we’re being hunted when we leave our homes?

CLAY: Yes.

BUCK: I think was the quote, that’s a reckless and stupid thing to say; I don’t care who you are.

CLAY: It’s not even the most reckless thing he’s done. He posted the photo of a Columbus, Ohio, police officer who was responding to a potential stabbing, showed up and fired and protected the life of a girl that was about to be stabbed, and LeBron James doxed him. He put up his picture and said, “You’re next,” basically putting a price on this guy’s head.

Now, he ended up deleting the tweet after that. But you can watch the video. The guy was wearing a camera himself. The photo, the still shot show that he shot a woman literally as she was about to stab someone else. So he had to make a choice in real time, “Do I allow a stabbing and a murder to happen in front of them or do I protect the unarmed woman?”

Both of these were women, both black women, and LeBron put him on blast as if he was something other than a hero. And, again, in my industry, people give LeBron James a pass on his idiocy because they’re trying to preserve their access, right? That is one of the great flaws of sports and I think media in general.

If you only have a job because someone will talk to you, then you can’t say the full truth because that person might stop talking to you then. And so these numbers, there’s no way to run from them. Although people in my industry and people in the larger culture who don’t want this to be true, it’s almost like looking at the murder rate and trying to come up with a reason other than defunding the police and disrespecting law enforcement that it’s happening.

This is a political response.

They have turned off tens of millions of people.

BUCK: I just thought it was funny because I mentioned this, and I got diverted.

CLAY: Yes.

BUCK: This GQ article: “The NBA Finals’ TV Ratings Will Be Down, and It Doesn’t Matter at All.” And it’s, of course, the right wing is making this stuff up.

CLAY: (laughs)

BUCK: Of course, the guy links you and says this is, you know, incorrect.

CLAY: Yes! Yes. Disinformation!

BUCK: Disinformation from Clay Travis! This guy Will Leitch. And, look, to me, I think it’s pretty clear, and this stuff does matter. The culture does matter that we all live in. Whether companies feel like they have to be super-far left or whether they’ll pay a price if they antagonize half the country, this matters. Look at social media. People used to say, “Oh, Facebook, they can do whatever they want.” Really? Look at how powerful they are, and they’re left wing.

CLAY: And again, there are different roles for different companies. If your business plan is, “Hey, I’m gonna go after this half of the country,” I understand it. But to your point, sports was a unifier. It cut across identity politics lines for so long. Your team scores the touchdown and you turn in a stadium to high five somebody?

You don’t think about their race gender ethnicity or religion or their sexuality, God forbid. It’s just, “Hey, are you a part of my tribe?” right. Same thing for basketball, baseball, whatever else it is. And what has happened is, to me, all of these leagues should be trying to appeal to everyone, right? Because sports fans are Republicans. Sports fans are Democrats. Sports fans don’t care at all about politics, whatever.

Your brand, in my head, if you are a sports league, should be to appeal to everyone. And that’s why my book, Buck, was called Republicans Buy Sneakers, Too. Because to me, that’s a great line by Michael Jordan. That’s the era that I grew up in — Tiger Woods as well — where great athletes want their performance to speak for itself and want to appeal to everyone.

And, by the way, that’s how you actually change the country, by appealing to everyone, not by trying to appeal to a tiny slice of people on social media. So as a result, I really think LeBron James has basically destroyed the NBA’s brand, and it’s emblematic for many companies out there of what can happen. If you decide to go all-in on the woke politics train, you are losing a massive percentage of people that would otherwise be interested in your product.

BUCK: Michael Jordan was a superhero to me and millions of other kids growing up in this country.

CLAY: Yes.

BUCK: And to say he’s “superhero “is not even exaggeration because there was even a cartoon — I don’t know if you remember — with Bo Jackson, Michael Jordan, and Wayne Gretzky.

CLAY: I do remember that now that you mention it.

BUCK: There was an actual comic because they were superheroes because of their sports.

CLAY: Yes.

BUCK: And he transcended. He transcended so much by becoming this icon in America. And you just don’t have that in the NBA anymore. And you let wokeness and… I mean, you think about how much is a lost opportunity here too, someone of that kind of stature speaking about the need for communities of color, all communities to come together.

You know, let’s focus on bringing families together, bringing people together, getting violence down, getting everybody into school. There are these… It could be a megaphone of promising and productive messaging. Instead it’s, “Let’s flip our hoodies up because George Zimmerman” or whatever. What is that? What is that?

CLAY: Yeah. The larger context here, to me, is if athletes came out and said to their kids the same thing I say to my kids, which is, “If a police officer asks you to do something, do it.” Right? If athletes just came out… Instead of saying, “The police are awful, the police are the problem,” if they just came out and said, “If a police officer asks you to do something, comply.”

Because if you go look at every single interaction that turns negative between — just about every single interaction that turns negative between — police and the citizens they’re trying to protect, how does it all begin? With a failure to comply to basic police instructions. I’m a lawyer. I tell my kids this all the time. “If a police officer asks you to do something inappropriate and you do it, we can sue later,” right?

You can prove that you shouldn’t have been stopped. You can prove that you shouldn’t have been searched. All those things, we have constitutional protections. But you have to begin all of those interactions by showing respect for the police. That could be a really powerful statement that would be made by athletes across the country.

They won’t say it because they’re too focused on demonizing police and trying to make this country look awful. They’re becoming propaganda for China. People are seeing through it — and the NBA has gotten woke and their ratings have gone broke.



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