Asking For Too Much?

The league is filled with some of the best players in the world and every team has their hometown superstars that they revolve around. But when asked about THE MAN in the NBA, 2 names pop in most heads – Lebron James and Kobe Bryant.

These two headliners are the face of the league. One has been the head honcho of the league for almost a decade, while the other has already put the league on his back for the future. Aside from the big picture, they’re the leaders of their own respective teams and have led each to victory numerous times throughout the season and now during the playoffs. They’ve hustled, grinded it out, and took over games when their team needed that extra boost for a win. What got me thinking though is the increasing pressure from two different sides.

Team Leaders

They know when they have to take over games and understand that they’re going to be called upon when the game is on the line. No matter how exhausted they’ve been at times during this postseason, they know and expect to take that last shot. They’ve both had their hands full with Orlando and Denver, and many times have had to throw the entire team on their back with the sole focus of winning that game; where they’ve succeeded, but also fallen short. Though in their minds, they understand their role as team leaders and know that they have the ability and skill to take over any game at any time.

But let’s tie that with another, more global side…


Aside from the team, the coaches, and their own expectations – it’s what the fans, the media, and advertisers are expecting and hoping for – a Lebron vs. Kobe NBA Finals matchup. Undoubtedly, they were the 2 best teams in the league during the regular season, but the playoffs are a different beast and it shows. Lebron’s Cavs are struggling to stay alive in the series against Orlando, while the Lakers have their own battle with Denver. We all wish for that dream matchup, I know I do. But how much pressure are we willing to put on the already enormous backs of these two superstars?

The media and advertisers have been chomping at the bit (while some are scared) at the thought of two MVPs going at it in the Finals. Nike has seemingly blown the roof off this hopeful matchup with their series of Kobe/Lebron puppet commercials. I love the commercials – they’re witty, funny, but also, instills that thought into our heads. Kobe vs. Lebron; Lebron vs. Kobe. Nike wants it; the NBA (whether they admit it or not) wants it. I’m sure even Lebron and Kobe want it. On the flip, there are many who are tired of hearing about and don’t want it to happen. They’re pulling for the supposed underdogs to win both series, as I’m sure Orlando and Denver are sick of hearing about it as well. I know Dwight Howard is.

Now tie these two sides together and look at the bigger picture. They’re leaders because of their skill and ability, and they wholeheartedly accept that role. That’s definitely not at question. What I question is the additional expectations from fans, media, advertisers, etc. I realize that the league and advertisers would benefit from this possible matchup, but when do we ask ourselves, are we asking for too much?

Are these expectations right to their opponents? To the league? More importantly, is it right to Lebron and Kobe, two players that already have immense pressure to lead their teams. Let me hear from you.

  1. AJ in Nashville (Reply) on Thursday 28, 2009

    Well, first off, allow me to say that I am impressed with you, Mister Sonny Gill! Shame on me for not knowing it already, but I find it extremely refreshing to find a SocMed maven who actually cares about something so crass as professional sports — or at least who is unafraid to devote an entire blog to it! :}

    As for me, I grew up with the L.A. Lakers. I have been an avid fan since the late 60s-early 70s teams of Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and my all-time favorite, Jerry West.

    Like most Lakers fans, I love Kobe. I also love Lebron, for the obvious talent and incredible character he exudes, belying his age. If these two superstars meet in The Finals, nothing could make me happier. it will be a war between two incredible — and incredibly equal — basketball talents.

    However I have to agree with your assertion that the hype preceding this dream match-up nearly cancels out its significance from a sports perspective, in its borderline immoral-and-obvious ulterior motive for profit by the networks and advertisers hoping to cash in on the TeeVee ratings and potential sales derived from its promotion.

    You won’t find a bigger fan over the years of ESPN than I’ve been, but it has pained me to watch them become more and more involved in this type of sleazy behavior. To me they’re just as culpable in establishing and exacerbating this now-flourishing culture of sports over-hype with their incessant and nauseating fanning-of-the-flames in the Yankees-Red Sox MLB rivalry. If there’s any kind of sports over-hype going on in the media, you can bet that if the 4-Letter didn’t start it, they’re at least an active participant.

    What it boils down to, I believe, is profit — not fandom. It’s companies looking for ratings, buzz, sales. Anyone who believes otherwise has their head buried in the sand, IMO.

    So are we doing Kobe and LeBron a disservice with all the hype right now? Yeah, I think so. Are we dissing Denver and Orlando in this deal as well? Most definitely. Is this type of thing going to end anytime soon? Only if the ginormous machine that is sports marketing in America grinds to a screeching halt, which, in other words, ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.

    That’s one bell you can’t un-ring.

  2. Kasey Skala (Reply) on Thursday 28, 2009

    I almost think it’s too much pressure on the NBA, rather than Kobe & Lebron. The two will be studs whether they make the Finals or not, but what happens to the NBA? Yes, Lebron needs that ring if he wants to surpass MJ as the G.O.A.T. But for the NBA to get the interest they had back in the days of Magic, MJ & Bird, they almost need the dream match-up. The loyal fans will still watch the Finals no matter who’s in it, but will the casual fan? The NBA wants to be global more than anything, this will certainly help.

  3. David Spinks (Reply) on Friday 29, 2009


    Really liking the new blog. Nothing better than blogging about something you love and I know how much you love your basketball! Looking forward to reading more.

    In response to your post…is it fair for us to have such expectations? Probably not… Is it inevitable? Maybe. The media absolutely plays a major role in directing the fans’ focus to Kobe and Lebron. It’s not surprising or unexpected though. When it comes down to it they’re looking for players to get fans excited/interested. When they find players like that, they focus on them. Not that far off from how many other businesses function.

    Look at golf with Tiger…not sure what percentage of viewers watch golf solely to watch Tiger, but I’m willing to bet its really high. Why wouldn’t the media focus on him? Well because once he’s gone, so are all the eggs that they put in his basket…but that’s just not the way the media thinks.


  4. Sonny Gill (Reply) on Friday 29, 2009

    @AJ: Great to see a longtime NBA fan weigh in on this. You’re totally spot on with your assessment on how the media is handling these two superstars’ names. It is something that us as sports fans will have to deal with, whether basketball or not, as you can’t stop the power of big name media, especially when it comes to ratings and revenue. Thanks for kickin’ off the new blog with the first comment!

    @Kasey: @David: You guys make a great point. I think in recent years, the names of Kobe and Lebron plus other young studs (Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade) have certainly helped bring the NBA closer to its ‘glory years’ of Jordan, Magic, and Bird. But you’re absolutely right, the NBA would hurt a lot if both of them did not make it to the Finals. Not from the revenue standpoint that AJ notes, but the possible millions of eyeballs they’d lose out on. Thanks for the great comments you two!

  5. Dave Folkens (Reply) on Friday 29, 2009

    Hey Sonny,
    Glad you decided to dive into the world of the NBA since you enjoy it so much. I’m going to in large part agree with some of the earlier comments in that the NBA clearly would love to have it’s two brightest stars on the grand stage (not to mention the L.A. market). However, I don’t think we’re asking too much of them, as they wanted this and it’s no accident that some of the best players are also the smartest.

    I think part of the reason these two are such focal points is that they both “get it” when it comes to advertising/marketing/branding. They both began very young and have all the talent in the world but what separates these two off the court is that both have embraced the sales side of their careers.

    Kobe has evolved over time from boy-wonder, to fallen hero, and now back again with a seemingly more mature approach. Many people still don’t like him but he’s clearly moved back into the top tier of endorsements and his brand following the Olympics and the last couple Lakers runs.

    Lebron is even better. His charisma is stronger than Kobe’s with less of a love/hate factor. (Caution: I am going to mention his Airness here- don’t roll eyes yet) Lebron has modeled a great deal of his life after MJ – I truly believe he’s got a great sense of what MJ did to build the largest sports empire ever and he’s an extremely smart marketer. He has avoided huge missteps and is the current king of the NBA, despite being in a smaller market.

    These guys are great and they can handle the expectations both on and off the court. We’ll see if either of them actually have the chance to be standing on the court when the dust settles this year.

  6. Sonny Gill (Reply) on Saturday 30, 2009

    @Dave: Great perspective here, Dave. They are most definitely great business men and perhaps (I’m sure) they know what’s revolving around their names and teams and the pressure that’s been built up. And they love it. They realize what it would do for not only the NBA but their sponsors and future deals they’ll be able to get. To that thought, maybe we shouldn’t feel as bad?

    Thanks for the great comment – definitely has me thinking!