Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Cuban is right, but he’s wrong

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was absolutely correct when he said the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook was not a "superstar." He isn’t one. But Cuban was incorrect when he said Westbrook’s teammate, Kevin Durant, as well as Dirk Nowitzki, the greatest Maverick ever, were superstars. The NBA has only three — count ‘em, three — superstars among its ranks.

It should be realized here that "superstardom" has absolutely nothing to do with talent and ability and everything to do with economics. Do people shell out money to see this performer do his or her thing?

Back in what Hollywood likes to refer to as its glory days, when the big motion picture studios controlled everything, it was all about creating and maintaining superstars. It didn’t matter if the movie was good, bad or indifferent, if Bette Davis was in it, or if Marilyn Monroe was in it, or if Frank Sinatra was in it, if it starred Astaire-Rogers, the ticket buyers would shell out the money to see it. That all changed when Hollywood slowly evolved from being star-driven to actor/director-driven. But I still have friends back in my home in New York City who will be at the theater on opening day to see the latest Woody Allen film, no matter what.

I will admit talent helps one become a superstar, but all one has to do is survey the state of today’s most popular concert performers to realize that is not the overriding criterion. A simple poster, not her acting ability, made Farrah Fawcett a superstar in the 1970s. Of the NBA’s three current superstars — two of the them are incredibly talented and the third used to be. I’m talking about Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors, LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers.

If you have just a passing interest in pro basketball, live within the radius of an NBA city and your team is hosting the Warriors, you’re going to want to go, not to see the Warriors necessarily, but to see Steph Curry. Fans not only show up to see him play, they know enough to get to the arena early to witness his pre-game warmup routine. No one went out of their way to see the Cleveland Cavaliers before LeBron James played on the team (either time), but the Cavs regularly sell out visiting NBA arenas today, as he did when he played with the Miami Heat. But those people come to see LeBron do his thing, not to see the Cavs. I remember distinctly at Mavericks-Lakers games at the old Reunion arena that more people at those contests wore Kobe Bryant jerseys than were wearing Mavericks gear,

That’s what defines a superstar.

How many youngsters outside the state of Oklahoma do you imagine have Russell Westbrook posters on their bedroom walls? I’m betting a significantly greater number have posters of Steph, LeBron and Kobe.

And that’s another measure of superstardom. I don’t even have to mention their last names, but you know whom I am talking about.

Finally, check out this: the best selling NBA jerseys. The top three are 1. Steph Curry; 2. LeBron James; 3. Kobe Bryant. That’s how you define a superstar.

Incidentally, without looking, try to guess who is No. 4 on the jersey list. I’m betting you won’t get it. But it indicates that media exposure, more than talent and ability, drives superstardom.

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