In a year of sports events returning to their proper scale after pandemic restrictions, it is now the turn of the National Basketball Association (NBA).
The NBA Finals are back with a beautifully poised contest. The Boston Celtics, one of the most storied teams in the sport’s history, are facing off against the Golden State Warriors, the most influential and consistently successful franchise of the past decade.
It is a matchup that has captured the attention of the league’s youthful fanbase. Front Office Sports reports that highlights from Game 1 of the best-of-seven series generated 135 million views on Instagram – a record for that stage.
Before that, videos from the Conference Finals managed five billion views across the major social platforms, a 32 per cent increase on 2021. The official NBA TikTok account quadrupled its view count year on year in the same period, with 150 million views.
Both teams, of course, have huge followings in the US and far beyond. Meanwhile, the NBA has a long-established reputation as an innovator with a collaborative focus on new media outlets and the fan experience.
Nevertheless, it is no secret that it has always been a personality-driven league. The Celtics and the Warriors boast superstar talent that delights hardcore fans and draws in casual followers. Content featuring Golden State’s Stephen Curry, whose mastery of the three-pointer helped change the game forever, has alone accounted for 231 million video views since the beginning of the playoffs and 1.3 billion views on NBA accounts dating back to the start of the season last October.
Off the court, players have been accumulating greater clout for a generation. The legendary Michael Jordan was the world’s first billionaire athlete, forging his Jordan Brand of footwear and apparel through an all-conquering career with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s and then taking ownership of the Charlotte Hornets on retirement.
Despite a disappointing season with the Los Angeles Lakers, Jordan’s modern heir LeBron James was confirmed by Forbes this month as the NBA’s first actively playing billionaire. He has built impressively on Jordan’s example.
In 2021 he appeared in a sequel to Space Jam – the 1996 part-animated family comedy that starred Jordan and Bugs Bunny’s Looney Tunes – but as well as acting, James co-produced the movie with Warner Bros through his SpringHill Company. His stake in that studio, which he co-founded with longtime friend and business partner Maverick Carter, is understood to be worth over $300 million.
37-year-old James also has a holding in Liverpool FC and Boston Red Sox owner Fenway Sports Group and has expressed an interest in buying an NBA team when his playing days end. His preference is for a long-rumoured expansion franchise in Las Vegas, should that ever appear. Yet while he is the highest-profile businessman among current stars, he is not alone in diversifying his activities.
A number of NBA players are prolific investors in startups and mature companies across media, technology and the sports industry. These include regular All-Stars like Curry and his former teammate Kevin Durant, who won two championships in northern California before joining the Brooklyn Nets. Thirty Five Ventures, which Durant set up with his manager Rich Kleinman in 2016, has bought into fast-growing tech platforms like Postmates, Coinbase, Robinhood and Acorns as well as other companies in media and entertainment.
Now, organisations within the sport are trying to support other players in taking control of their financial destiny. In June the National Basketball Players’ Association (NBPA) confirmed details for the third annual edition of its startup accelerator programme – the first to feature in-person elements.
Current and former NBA players involved in the early stage of financing startups will develop ideas and learn business skills from leaders and investors. A two-day training camp is planned in Las Vegas in July, with the initiative supported by private investment firms Patricof Co and Andreesen Horowitz.
In the NBA, talent has always paid the bills. Today, its impact is felt more broadly than ever before.
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