Does the NBA really know (its OWN) Latinos?

At the inaugural Tecate Premios Deportes a couple of years ago, Denver Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony stood at the podium and proudly proclaimed in Spanish that his father was Boricua.  Clearly no one from the NBA was in the audience, or watched the telecast on Univision.

In its current Spanish-language campaign, ostensibly designed to reach out to US Hispanics, the NBA seems to have forgotten some of its star Latino players.  NBA, have you ever heard of another famous Boricua who’s last name is also Anthony?  Hint: he sung the national anthem at a recent Monday Night Football game in Miami.  And by the way, a Nuyorican just got appointed to the Supreme Court.

The NBA’s refurbished Spanish language website, www.nba.com/enebea, includes a listing of “Hispanic players” but it strangely omits Carmelo Anthony and half-Cuban Gilbert Arenas of the Wizards.  I would almost suggest that the NBA is black Latino-challenged for leaving out these two Latino players but to their credit, they do include the Pistons’ Queens, NY-bred, Dominican player Charlie Villanueva.

The NBA, in its infinite search for dollars in China and Europe, has for too long neglected its own US Hispanic heritage which in turn has caused it to fall behind the NFL and Major League Baseball in terms of reaching out to US Latinos.  With its new Spanish-language campaign founded on the new tagline “Enebea”, I think the NBA missed a great opportunity to be culturally-relevant to its biggest source of Hispanic fans, bicultural, urban, Spanglish-speaking Latinos.  For evidence, wait until next year when the Lakers repeat, and stroll down the downtown Laker victory parade.

In explaining its new strategy, and the format it has chosen, the NBA cited the 15% of its fan base that is Hispanic and the popularity of the San Antonio Spurs.   It seems the NBA chose to ignore the fact that the Spurs’ Hispanic fan base is largely English-dominant and bilingual (a reflection of that Texas city’s demographics).  Think about that city’s favorite daughter, and the Spurs’ #1 Latina fan, Eva Longoria.

And back to the Lakers, they are probably the one NBA franchise that appeals equally strongly to both acculturated and unacculturated Hispanics (but its Latino essence is truly urban).  And credit should be given to the Lakers’ Spanish player Pau Gasol who has done a lot to reach out to LA’s Spanish-language media.  But Kobe Bryant cannot be ignored.  I sometimes wonder whether his huge popularity among Latinos is due to his Latina wife…OK, he’s not that bad of a player.

The 1960’s radical Abby Hoffman once said “never impose your language on people you wish to reach.”  I commend the NBA for its interest in the Hispanic fan but after watching its TV spot I wish it had heeded Hoffman’s advice.  But to omit a proud Boricua–arguably your biggest Latino player–on your Spanish-language website is just not right.

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