As we learned during last summer's lockout, there's a division in the NBA between big market and small market franchises. The former have a theoretical competitive advantage because their local TV deals give them the chance to pay the luxury tax without as much of a financial hit, while their proximity to corporations and advertisers makes them attractive to free agents. In this situation, the small-market teams have to rely on boring stuff like effective management to succeed. It's asymmetric warfare, in a way.
The upshot of this situation is that even the best players in small markets, like Oklahoma City Thunder grandmaster Kevin Durant, aren't always judged on the merits. In fact, Miami Heat superstar Dwyane Wade — who is pretty famous — thinks that Durant would be a bigger star if he didn't play in OKC. From Ben Golliver for Eye on Basketball:
"Sometimes it's where you're at," Wade said at practice on Wednesday. "If he was in Los Angeles, Chicago, somewhere, it would be a little different. Being in Oklahoma kind of dims his light a little bit, not him on the basketball court but him off the court."
Oklahoma City is one of the NBA's smallest media markets -- ranking 28th or 29th, depending on the study -- alongside the likes of Memphis and New Orleans. The Thunder are Oklahoma's only professional sports franchise and are in just their fourth season in the city, after relocating from Seattle in 2008.
"There's not a lot of exciting things going on out here," Wade said Wednesday.
Wade has a point, because cities like New York and Los Angeles are in fact bigger than Oklahoma City. Players naturally get more attention there just because those teams have more fans and dominate TV schedules even during off-years. But Wade is also terribly wrong, because Durant is about as popular as a 23-year-old without a championship can be in today's NBA. He has multiple national endorsements, will star in a feature film this summer, and is about to become an even bigger presence for Nike given his success this postseason. In other words, Durant is already one of the five biggest basketball players in the world, and he'll only get more attention as time goes on. Winning tends to bring celebrity to any player willing to cultivate a media profile.
When Durant was in his second season and rapidly becoming one of the best offensive players in the league in relative anonymity, playing in OKC diminished his star power. With Thunder games only airing on League Pass nationally and few reasons for national writers to watch a bad team, he didn't get the attention his burgeoning star power deserved. But in this moment, with the Thunder becoming the darlings of the NBA, Durant is getting plenty of notice. He's undoubtedly a huge star, perhaps only behind LeBron James and Kobe Bryant in terms of widespread popularity. Now that the Thunder are a fixture on national broadcasts and Durant has several major endorsements, he's having no problems getting noticed.
Perhaps playing in a bigger market would add to his profile. But the same could be said of Wade, who plays in Miami as second banana to LeBron James. It's a new media landscape, one where it's easier to watch players in smaller markets and players can use the internet to build a large fan base. Wade is technically correct, but his comments seem out of touch or the mark of someone trying to start an argument for no reason.
Whatever the case, it seems like a poor choice of words for someone about to play a tough Game 2 in a hostile environment. Thunder fans don't need any more reason to get loud, but these comments will probably help motivate them.