Counterfactual of the Day

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

Maybe it's the calendar, but my mouse keeps drifting unintentionally toward baseball-related content. From Maury Brown at The Biz of Baseball:

The NBA will be forever indebted to Nike for taking a dynamic North Carolina Tarheel basketball player and turning him into sports' greatest icon. If not for Nike, there would be no Brand Jordan. Without Brand Jordan, Nike would not see basketball shoe wear as their number one commodity.

So, what if?

What if the great experiment by Jerry Reinsdorf, Jordan, and the Chicago White Sox had succeeded and Jordan had been able to make the transition to baseball? This isn't to say that baseball apparel can be leveraged to the point that basketball shoes are at the casual wear level, but given Jordan's iconic status at the time that he made his attempts at baseball, it seems obvious that MLB would have become the extended benefactor just as the NBA was, and still is, by way of Nike.

That's a key piece missing for MLB. To date, there hasn't been a push by a massive corporate presence on the level that Nike has produced through athlete sponsorships such as Jordan, and now LeBron James. Then, maybe then, MLB might see something remotely close to what the NBA has seen in terms of promoting its star players. Until then, MLB will continue to be an underling, waiting for its iconic player to come along.

There's an intimacy to basketball that the stadium sports just don't have, for whatever reason. Maybe it's the indoor venues or the acrobatics that are inherent to basketball. I've always held the unfounded, possibly ridiculous, belief that basketball, as the only major sport where the players don't wear helmets or hats, holds a competitive advantage in the marketing of its stars. I don't watch a lot of pro football, but it dawned on me the other day that I didn't know what Pro Bowl QB Jay Cutler looked like until the story of his pending departure from Denver started to percolate.

Over the course of my entire life as a baseball fan, I've heard this rap that Major League Baseball doesn't have a Bird/Magic rivalry, or a Michael Jordan, or a LeBron James, as if these athletes were dropped from the heavens into the good fortunes of the NBA. If baseball has a problem, it isn't that the game hasn't been endowed with personable, otherworldly talents. It's that those charged with the task of promoting these athletes have never taken the aesthetic part of the job seriously enough.