New city, new players, new jerseys…. Brooklyn’s transformation is cool, but all those things have been done before. Then again, the Nets have something,
or rather someone, that no other team has.
He’s one of the most successful artists of the last 20 years. He’s a ridiculously wealthy businessman with lucrative ventures all over. He has one of the ten most talented and reckless musicians of the last century literally on a chain. He’s married to and has a child with one of the (in my opinion) five most beautiful women in the world. He’s on the President’s playlist. So powerful is this man, that one of the most popular conspiracy theories on the internet tries to explain his power by involving him in a secret, super powerful, devil worshiping organization called the Illuminati.
If you don’t know who I’m talking about, it’s Jay-Z. Sorry for the suspense.
Jay likes the sport of basketball. Up and coming players are sure to receive texts from him, and if their play reaches stardom, like LeBron, they may be counted among his friends. So he bought a small share of New Jersey Nets stock. And by small, I mean a fifteenth of a percent. And then he moved a professional sports franchise to his hometown, which is in another state.
Yes, that’s right. Jay-Z moved the Nets. Him and his entire fifteenth of a percent. Sure, Mikhail Prokhorov is the majority owner of the team, but do you really think he was sitting in Moscow one day, surrounded by mafia men and bears on unicycles, and said, “I think I’m going to move my basketball team to a crime-infested, over-populated borough in a city that already has an NBA team.” Not a chance. Jay convinced him of the endless benefits of moving from New Jersey to Brooklyn. And that only adds to the bizarre of this move: Mikhael Prokhorov is no dummy. He’s the 57th richest man in the world. He’s a Russian politician. He stands 6 feet 8 inches tall. An article on NetsDaily describes him thus: “A billionaire 17 times over, he is called Russia’s most eligible bachelor and is often seen in the company of some of the world’s most beautiful women. He is quick-witted, charming and affable, someone who enjoys the spotlight, craves it in fact. In a literary sense, he is more F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby than Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago…more excess than asceticism…and although a Russian patriot, he wants to be seen as a man of the world. He flies around the world in a $45 million Gulfstream V corporate jet and can’t seem to keep track of his $45 million yacht.”
And yet, a kid from the ghetto has him moving a franchise to his home town. He even got him to spit a few lines on Russian national television.
Turns out, this could be a terrific move, one that Prokhorov may have never been aware of, but after considering it, realized was full of promise. New Jersey is best known for people named Snooki, The Situation, and Pauly-D. Perhaps it was time for the Nets to move on.
At face value, Brooklyn would seem to be a decent, but not perfect, place to set up an NBA team. Basketball thrives in urban environments like Brooklyn, and with a massive population, establishing a fan base would not be too difficult. But what about the “Brooklyn Nets” makes it work? Jay-Z makes it work. Once the decision to move to Brooklyn was made, Jay started making the team in his image (well, he does call himself “Hova”). A promising lineup of players wasn’t enough; he had to sell this team to the populace. So he helped them to design new jerseys that are just too cool. Sure, they are very similar to the Spurs’, but the classic design simultaneously says “Duke Ellington” as well as “Jay-Z”. Which takes us to the next thing that makes this work: rap music itself. Jay-Z is the undisputed head of hip-hop, and a series of concerts dedicated to the new team while decked out in his own personalized Nets jersey just got finished. Basketball and hip-hop have a unique connection unlike any other sport and music combination. Brooklyn has produced some of the more famous MCs in history.
This match is just too perfect, and it’s really a pretty interesting story. Somehow, a man with no real power in the organization was able to influence one of the most powerful men in the world to move his basketball team to a city where Jay, and only Jay, could do the best possible job selling the team. But this pseudo-coup is only part of the rapper’s influence on the NBA.
Seen any adds for NBA 2k13? Did you happen to notice how prominent the advertising tagline “Executive Produced by Jay-Z” is? Did you know pretty much all he did was approve the soundtrack? Still, that’s cool. People want to buy 2k13 anyway, and if you throw in Jay-Z, it’s about as cool as you can be buying a video game (I’m hoping to cop one for myself).
The relationship between rappers and sports is nothing new. Athletes want to be rappers ( some actually have been) and rappers want to be athletes. Athletes listen to rap via their Dr. Dre’s while rappers include athletes in their rhymes all the time (one of my favorites being Tedashii’s [Jesus] took the heat, you can call him Dirk Nowitzki]). Derek Minor, f.k.a PRo, considered the stage name Dirk N’Spitzki. They hang out together, inspire each other, and famous friendships include Tupac and Mike Tyson (documented in the 30 for 30 film One Night in Vegas). Sometimes these relationships aren’t entirely positive, like Luther Campbell’s bounty program with the Miami Hurricanes football team.
So now I have finally arrived at the crux of the matter: Is Jay-Z’s influence as a minority owner of an up and coming team good or bad for basketball? Initially, you would think the answer is good, and three reasons come to mind: he can increase the league’s popularity, the Nets could change the landscape of power, and this could change the way owners work. The first reason is fairly obvious. Jay-Z is a popular man, and anything he puts his name on seems bound to succeed. If he and Beyonce are at courtside games with their young child, people take notice. We are entering a golden age of basketball, and with a super celebrity like Jay at the forefront, the NBA could solidify itself as the third most popular sporting institution in the nation (behind both pro and college football). The second reason is for pure basketball reasons. It’s nice to see a bad team finally succeed again after a decade of troubles. The Nets, although not as different a team from last year as most would think, have a starting lineup in the top third of the league. If they really come together and peak at the right time, they could make it to the Conference Finals, and in a showdown with the Heat, anything could happen. Anytime that one team rises to power in the league, other teams try to catch up, and that creates interesting free agent acquisitions and trades.
The third reason could possibly have the greatest impact. Even though they have one of the most enviable jobs in the world, owners of sports teams are not generally well-liked. After three lockouts in a row between the NFL, NBA, and NHL, fans are about fed up with billionaire owners. The referee debacle in the NFL made the situation even worse. When people think of owners, they think of outspoken guys like Jim Irsay, Mark Cuban, and Jerry Jones, or ones that create funny quotes like Dan Gilbert. Many owners also have bad reputations as being terrible managers of their teams. If the new-look Nets work out, this might change the way the populace looks at owners. Instead of disliking them for ruining teams and destroying the quality of play, they can be appreciated for owning a great product.
But there are reasons to be apprehensive of this new sports mogul. First of all is how he is viewed by the general populace. Rap is a complex and misunderstood art form, and despite the growing acceptance of it, many people are wary of rappers and their message. The interregnum between Jordan and LeBron cast a bad light on NBA players, and that was in part because of the growing synonymity of basketball culture and hip-hop culture. Often times, the lyrics of secular rap are explicit, violent, drug-infused, or sexual. Jay-Z is no exception. Some people may be wary of a league represented by this kind of artist. Furthermore, Jay-Z may be forever linked to the Illuminati theory, and the thought of being brainwashed by hidden messages being played backwards in songs freaks a lot of people out.
Secondly, this could create imitators. What Jay-Z did was pretty impressive, and it was accomplished because he’s a special person. So now what if another musician, rap or otherwise, wants to give it a go? What if Kenny Chesney tries to take over the Tennessee Titans? What would happen if the host of L.A. rappers took over the move of some NFL team to Los Angeles? We don’t even know if Jay-Z’s operation is going to ultimately be successful, but if it is, why wouldn’t other musicians try to do the same thing? Maybe they would be successful, but my intuition tell me some troubles could arise. Most musicians aren’t as skilled businessmen as Jay.
My final reason is this: Jay-Z scares me. He’s too successful. Even if he didn’t make a deal with the devil, and even if he isn’t in league with society’s elite, his actual power is startling. Isn’t it a little strange that the face of a franchise is allowed to put his name on the front cover of a video game licensed by the league? I’m sure he’s invested in the Nets, but do you really think someone as powerful and influential as him is going to stop at one fifteenth of one percent of one measly team? We’re talking about the guy who is constantly showing up on my sidebar in Facebook for ads about Barack Obama. Someone who calls himself Jehovah. Remember the first paragraph? Jay-Z, in the same way that he commandeered the Nets franchise from the real Most Interesting Man in the World, could expand his power over the NBA in both discreet and overt ways.
Sorry, that idea scares me. And I actually like rap music.
What do you think? I’m looking forward to the new-look Nets and the NBA season. More special-feature articles are on the way, in addition to the weekly NFL articles. Like, comment, subscribe/follow, give me a rating, post to Facebook and Twitter, email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for reading!
Soli Deo Gloria