What can the NBA teach us about effectively promoting sports culture?

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has earnt its spot as one of sports most progressive leagues due to it’s unique but powerful sporting culture. The NBA lead the way in showing us how to combat social injustice. They’re creating opportunities for youngsters to discover their potential through charitable causes. Plus, they’ve established innovative partnerships that effectively connect them to their broad audience. This blog will explore how The NBA does the above well.

Collaborating with culturally-relevant brands

Last week saw the NBA announce Cognac brand Hennessy as their Official Spirits Partner. The two parties will work together, producing limited edition bottles, consumer events and local activations. Plus, African, Asia-Pacific, European and South American territories will witness the NBA x Hennessy Lines campaign, celebrating those pushing basketball forward.

This partnership is more purposeful than the NBA merely following the trend of sport and beverage collaborations. Hennessy is a famous cognac distiller, specifically in urban rap and pop culture. Global music artists like Drake, Dej Loaf, Lil Wayne, and Snoop Dogg have endorsed the drink many times on some of their biggest hits. Before COVID19, these pop cultural icons would regularly attend NBA games at courtside. This partnership keeps The NBA culturally sensitive in the rap-pop subculture, which makes up a large part of its audience demographic.  

Relentless athlete activism

Mike Ehrmann/AP
Los Angeles Lakers players, including LeBron James, third from left, and Anthony Davis, second from right, wear Black Lives Matter shirts as they kneel during the national anthem prior to an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers, July 30, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

The NBA and their athletes have stood up against social injustice like no other sports leagues. 2020 was the year The NBA authentically showcased its global community’s strength following the murder of George Floyd during the COVID19 pandemic.

Many players and personalities encouraged the league to feature prominent and unavoidable statements surrounding BLM. Black lives matter was displayed across the court while player jersey’s where replaced with human rights policies instead of player names. Why did this work so well? Well, every camera angle, video shot, and highlight-reel presented would have a BLM-associated message. The topic would naturally spring into a viewers mind which successfully creates brand awareness through The NBA about a significant societal issue.

NBA legend, LeBron James, spoke with US TV Network ESPN about BLM being more than a movement; instead, it’s a lifestyle and modern-day life as a black male. Lakers teammate, Anthony Davis, endorsed LeBron’s to be a pivotal figure to make many listen. But why? Well, LeBron comes from humble beginnings and consistently uses his platform to openly and authentically discuss societal issues.

Although AC Milan player Zlatan Ibrahimovic has criticised the basketball player for ‘politicising’ sports. LeBron promptly responded by vowing never to stop talking about problems in society. James’ persistent athletic activism towards uplifting equality embeds an optimistic sports culture for The NBA to champion worldwide.

Unlocking opportunities for communities


August 2020 saw the NBA commit $300m in funds to support black empowerment over the next decade through the newly formed ‘The NBA Foundation’. The charity focuses on growing the black community through youth employment and education support. The next 10-years will see all 30 NBA teams contribute $1m to the foundation to impact lives positively. Multi sports-property owners Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment (HBSC) have invested $10m to the charity.

The NBA foundation setup strengthens the league’s connection with wider communities outside of the sport. It’s augmenting basketball’s power to show sports’ ability to transform and unlock potential in disadvantaged livelihoods.  

So, what has the NBA taught us about promoting sports culture? The league is one of the most progressive properties at promoting the theme. Secondly, culture should be community-led. Otherwise, fan engagement will gradually fade away over time. Thirdly, sports culture should be about standing up for what’s right and not shying away from critics!

Published by Ash

I'm a First-Class Graduate in Sports Business Management who has worked across Local Government, Sport and the Third Sector. Throughout my career, I've developed a thriving passion to promote sport being used as a tool to bring positivity to the world we live in. This ethos has inspired me to create a website which champions this value through comprehensive online content for you to gain value from. Join me on this journey of discovering what sport can do to enhance society.

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