An Opportunity For NBA Players And Owners

With over 500 million followers and likes across the social media landscape, the NBA is well positioned to become a platform for technology innovation and education. Partnering with NSBE chapters and HBCU STEM programs and entities like Sports Technology Education @ MIT the NBA could begin in-house development of video games that would be appealing but not profitable enough for big name game development companies. MLB has gotten into the video game business(albeit for similar but different reasons) because it sees a long-term win.  In-house development capabilities would also enable the creation of apps and online services that would transform NBA Nation from a single sponsor to a thriving revenue generating network. All of these things will create an environment from which a new more representative generation of owners can emerge.  This effort could be kickstarted  with the fine that will be levied on Clippers owner  Donald Sterling!

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Is Technology The Answer To The NBA Owner Problem?

Not entirely but follow the money & you’ll see it has to play a part. STEM fields have had a big role in creating the fortunes of roughly half of today’s  NBA owners. Robert Johnson, the first African-American majority owner of a major sports team says he used tech ideas and a lot of tech money() to purchase the Charlotte Bobcats:

Pay TV opened my eyes. Once I understood the technology and saw that the technology could take a signal and send it all across the country simultaneously to different stations, then it became clear to me that programming could be segmented and targeted to different audiences, and so it didn’t take a big leap from that to say, ‘Wow, wait a minute, that’s what we’re already doing in the black community with print.’ Ebony magazine, for instance, is a targeted magazine. To some extent, black radio is a targeted medium. I said, ‘Wow, you could take this concept of technology and target black programming, which has always been a dream of various individual black media types–creating a black-oriented network.’ The idea was talked about in various blue-sky articles that argued that cable was going to be the democratization of media, but nothing like that existed.

I took out a $15,000 loan from a bank and set out to form a business. My big break came when cable magnate John Malone, then CEO of Tele-Communications Inc., the country’s third-largest cable company, decided to invest in my company

The Market Nobody Wanted

This was 1980 – $15K would be $43K and $500K would be $1.4M in 2014. Johnson is far from alone, half of the current NBA owners created their wealth through STEM related fields:

  1. Hawks
    1. Levenson – United Communications Group
    2. Gearon – American Tower
  2. Celtics Grousbeck VC Medical tech
  3. Nets – Prokhorov – Mining
  4. Cavaliers – Gilbert -Quicken Loans
  5. Mavs – Cuban – broadcast.com
  6. Pistons – Gores Platinum Equity LLC(initially and mostly tech investments)
  7. Celtics – Lacob(Biological sciences) – Kliener Perkins VC
  8. Lakers – Dr Buss background in physical chemistry
  9. Grizzlies – Pera MSEE Apple, Ubiquiti Networks
  10. Timberwolves – Taylor(BS Math-Physics-Social Science) – Taylor Corporation
  11. Knicks – James Dolan – Cablevision
  12. Trailblazers – Allen – Microsoft
  13. Kings – Ranadive(MSEE) TIBCO
  14. Spurs – Holt – Caterpillar
  15. Raptors – Tanenbaum – Kilmer Group
  16. Wizards – Leonsis-AOL

Big Props to David West for cutting to the chase with his “Plantation Politics” tweets because a majority black league ought to have more than one black owner and one shouldn’t be surprised that owners aren’t/haven’t been rushing to distance themselves from Donald Sterling.  Slavery is a recurring theme here which may make some folk uncomfortable. However, discomfort can be a good thing. Harriet Tubman reportedly said “I could have freed so many more if they had known they were slaves”. Many of the NBA owners who leveraged STEM, were not actually STEM professionals themselves but they were aware of the potential and had access to STEM professionals. We need a village.