NBA-to-Entertainment Company Translator: Part I “The Eastern Conference”

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Basketball is back!

And the town of glitz and glamour, the home of showtime—Hollywood—is back!

The stars aligned this off-season and the Lakers lured the biggest star in basketball, possibly the world (if you’re an American and ignore soccer), to the greatest franchise in sports history, the Los Angeles Lakers!

Here’s The Hollywood Reporter basking in the glory of LeBron James:

THR LeBron Cover

If you can’t tell, I’m a Lakers fan. At one point, celebrating the arrival of LeBron, I even compared LeBron joining the Lakers to The Walt Disney Company being able to acquire not just Marvel, but Pixar and Lucasfilm too.


That would make the Lakers “The Walt Disney Company” of NBA franchises. That sounds like an analogy. And a gimmick to write 6,000 words mashing together my love of NBA basketball with media & entertainment. That’s right, thousands of words over the next 3 articles celebrating the return of the NBA, giving every NBA team its partner in the world of entertainment (and occasionally media, tech and communications).

Ground Rules & Explanations

Like all things I do, this is a scientific and data-heavy enterprise. Supremely scientific. Yep, I used mounds of data from customer viewing behavior to financial performance to textual analysis of social media posts, Wikipedia pages and financial reports to develop a multi-variable complex regression that fed into a neural network that provided a clustered, nearest neighbor, that I modified via a random forest tree to make the optimal NBA-to-Entertainment analogies.

(Or I just made it up.)

Okay, an actual rule: I allowed myself to use both the conglomerates (Viacom, Disney, Comcast-NBC Universal, AT&T-Warner and others) and their subsidiaries, if the subsidiaries were significantly famous. So ESPN and Lucasfilm are a part of Disney, but they get their own teams, in addition to Disney getting its own team.

Second rule, I tried to use all the “entertainment” companies including conglomerates, studios, broadcast and cable groups before moving on to tech, print media and social media.

Third rule, I organized by conference in order of “power ranking”, which was a blend of ESPN, The Ringer, Zach Lowe and my preseason list of the best teams.

Fourth rule, have fun!

Eastern Conference

We’re starting with the Eastern Conference, that in days of yore we called the “Leastern Conference” since it’s talent paled so much in comparison to the West.

(Actually, it still pales in comparison.)

So we’ll start with the worst-er conference which means the bad movie studios (Paramount, Sony) and providers (cable companies, cellular and satellite companies). Speaking of which, our first translation:

Atlanta Hawks – Sprint
Orlando Magic – T-Mobile

Sprint and T-Mobile are trying to merge together to make a competitive cellular company. If you combined the Hawks and Magic, you (might) have a competitive NBA team. On their own? Sprint and T-Mobile would remain in 3rd and 4th place in cellular and The Hawks and Magic will be lucky to make it to 30 wins.

These analogies work individually too. Like Sprint, the Hawks have a long legacy with a lot of name changes. They started out as one of the original 8 NBA teams, were originally called the “Tri-City Blackhawks”, and possess a tradition that has been good, but never really great. (The Hawks last championship was in the 1950s.) I mean the best “move” Sprint made in the last two decades was luring Paul “Can you hear me now?” from Verizon, which is the cellular equivalent of the Trae Young trade last summer.

T-Mobile is the closest thing to an “expansion team” in the cellular game, like Orlando which was an expansion team in 1989. T-Mobile is also a Germany company trying to merge with a Japanese owned cellular company, which is geographically as confused as putting a basketball team in Orlando. (While Seattle still has approximately zero NBA teams.) Recently, T-Mobile has tried to sell itself, while failing and settling for merging with Sprint. The Magic had an all-NBA guard in Victor Oladipo, but traded him for nothing (basically), and now have a team of all power forwards. That matches.

New York Knicks – MGM

Did you know MGM owns the premium cable channel Epix? I pointed that out because…they do and Epix isn’t a bad business. They have a lot of hit movies. The only rightful NBA analogue to that is a basketball franchise owning one of the greatest arenas in sports—Madison Square Garden—and then trotting out one of the least effective NBA franchises of the last two decades…

Your New York Knickerbockers!

The analogy only continues from there and only gets worse. MGM clutches to its history to imply they’re still a major studio, the same way the Knicks fans insist they’re a historic franchise like Boston and L.A. (They aren’t.)

Both franchises—Knicks and MGM—date back to the “original 8” (either studios or NBA teams). Unfortunately, most of their greatest accomplishments came before most of us were borne (Walt Frazier, Bernard King, Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz). Each has also had their own turmoil in the 2000s, mainly because of management issues. (MGM becoming a holding company; hiring Isiah Thomas) They’ve also had their own run-ins with stars in the 2000s: Tom Cruise at MGM? Carmelo Anthony at the Knicks?

The future though isn’t terrible. MGM has a true hit-maker in Mark Burnett. The Knicks have potential star Kristaps Porzingis, if healthy. So am I saying Kristaps Porzingis is the Mark Burnett of the NBA? Yeah, and you won’t read that sentence anywhere else today…or ever.

Cleveland Cavaliers – Viacom

I count five major “conglomerates” in the entertainment game now that Disney swallowed Fox. One of them has to be the worst, and is it any debate that it’s Viacom?
Like Cleveland, Viacom’s history isn’t all bad. I mean, in the 2000s between MTV, Comedy Central and Spike, we all thought Viacom was pretty good. Of course, surrounding the best player in basketball with JR Smith, Iran Shumpert, and David Blatt is the Viacom equivalent of airing Teen Mom, Crank Yankers and Bar Rescue. Viacom’s lineup is the most Cleveland Cavaliers of primetime lineups.

Everything else—and especially the future—is pretty meh. Viacom and Cleveland both lost their biggest star in the offseason. (It’ll certainly kill Cleveland; it remains to be seen about CBS.) Viacom has a messy ownership situation (the Redstones are suing everyone) and so does Cleveland (Dan Gilbert essentially chased off LeBron).

Brooklyn Nets – Dalian Wanda

According to the internet, Dalian Wanda—the Chinese real estate company that owns two American entertainment companies (AMC Theaters and Legendary) and one Chinese film company—claims the mantle of “highest revenue generating film company” in the world. That’s sort of as incredible as Brooklyn at one point being this decade being over the NBA’s salary cap by $14 million, because they owe Allan Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll, Dwight Howard and Deron Williams tens of millions, each. How do these finances work?

It’s an even better analogy when you consider that it doesn’t matter because both the Brooklyn Nets and Dalian Wanda are owned by incredibly rich non-Americans who can afford to set piles of money on fire if they so choose. Are both owners also slightly shady? Sure, one is run by Chinese oligarchs with nebulous finances and the other is a Russian oligarch with nebulous finances.

Legendary and the Nets could also summarize their history in similar ways: Legendary started independent, like the Nets helped found the ABA, but required a major studio/the NBA to survive. They also have both had a string of hits—The Dark Knight, Inception, Jurassic World, Jason Kidd in the NBA finals—though recent history has been more mixed—Skyscraper, The Great Wall, trading all the draft picks to the Boston Celtics for past-their prime super stars.

Charlotte Bobnets-Horncats – The CWB

This is the history of the Charlotte Hornets: They started as the Hornets in 1988, then moved to New Orleans after the Jazz moved to Utah, and kept the Hornets name. But that made no sense in New Orleans so they changed it to the Pelicans. In the meantime, the NBA created another expansion team in Charlotte, but since “hornets” was taken, the new Charlotte team was called the Bobcats. When New Orleans renamed to the Pelicans, the Charlotte team took the Hornets name back.

Confused? Then let’s talk joint-ownership of The CW.

The CW is a broadcast channel currently owned by AT&T/Warner and CBS, that also used to own UPN. They shared content and marketing, until after hemorrhaging money, they closed UPN and renamed the remaining channel the CW (CBS and Warner Bros, get it?) and the situation continues to this day.

Mostly, this analogy works because the CW and Hornets share the most “meh” history in their respective fields. The WB “peaked” with teen focused shows like Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill—though peaked means never getting out of last place in the broadcast ratings. The Hornets peaked when they hired Michael Jordan as an “owner”—though peaked means never getting out of the first round of the playoffs.

Chicago Bulls – NBC

This analogy is one of the simplest: no one dominated the 1990s in TV like NBC’s “Must See TV” and no one dominated the 1990s in the NBA like Michael Jordan. Both started their rise in the 1980s (Cheers, All-NBA teams) but really peaked in the era of Bill Clinton (Seinfeld, Friends, ER; six NBA Championships).

In recent times, the records are mixed, with the Bulls claim to fame being Tom Thibodeau, Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose, with NBC claiming The Voice and This is Us. (Thibodeau is the Chicago-franchise, because he runs his players for way too many minutes and NBC airs way too many Dick Wolf shows.)

NBC did win the broadcast ratings war last year, but in the age of streaming and declining viewership that’s like winning 50 games in the NBA, good but not a championship. Just like the Bulls.

Detroit Piston – Paramount Studios

Paramount is an old studio that if you think about it, wasn’t too bad in the 2000s. They had their Mission Impossibles, a few Marvel movies (like Iron Man) and the Transformer films. They have a history that goes back decades and unlike the other movie studios, they’ve stayed in Hollywood proper, not fleeing to the valley. Detroit has had similar stability: they’ve been in the NBA since it was founded, and haven’t moved cities since coming to Detroit in 1957. Detroit also experienced inexplicable 2000s success by improbably winning an NBA championship in 2004.

Though, it’s been ugly for both since those highs. Paramount has been mired in last place in the box office wars and Viacom is constantly trying to sell it. After their championship, Detroit’s most notable moment was “The Malice in the Palace” which is as ugly as it gets.

Recently, both franchises seem unlikely to emerge as a contender. Paramount signed JJ Abrams to a huge deal, then has to let him make billion dollars movies for Disney, which is the management equivalent of Detroit signing Stan Van Gundy to a dual coach/GM role, then trading for Blake Griffin.

Washington Wizards – Sony Pictures Entertainment (with Columbia/TriStar)

Sony Pictures has the distinction of being the only “conglomerate” whose movie studio didn’t make the list on its own. That’s about how noteworthy they are as a conglomerate. We know they are out there and the have some hits (Breaking Bad, Jumanji, Venom; John Wall, Bradley Beale) but they just haven’t won anything.

Throw in some name changes (Bullets to the Wizards; Columbia/Tri-Star to Sony), historic legacy (first NBA expansion team, Columbia was an original studio) and history of mismanagement (Wizards & MJ; Sony & Peter Guber), and this analogy makes a lot of sense.

But we need just one more puzzle piece to really bring this home. How about controversy? The Washington Wizards had a card game go bad and players bring guns to a locker room. Yikes. Sony Pictures made a movie about North Korea that ended with their servers being hacked by North Korea and all their emails released. Double yikes.

Miami Heat – Lionsgate

Is Lionsgate a major-studio? A mini-major? Or just a studio that had two major franchises (The Hunger Games and Twilight) and hasn’t had the same success since?

Is Miami a perennial contender? A historic franchise? Or just a team that lured in two major stars (LeBron and Shaq) and hasn’t had the same success since?

Either way,  Miami and Lionsgate have leadership that seems to keep pulling rabbits out of the hat. Never count out Pat Riley from having a new trick that signs Shaq or LeBron or Goran Dragic. Never count out Jon Feltheimer, who keeps finding new companies to acquire. To continue the analogy, yeah Dwayne Wade was The Hunger Games of the 2000s and Chris Bosh was probably the Divergent series (started strong, but ended too soon).

The future for both is either bright or miserable, depending on how things play out. The Heat could snag Jimmy Butler and compete in the East. Or not. Amazon could buy Lionsgate instead of trying to build their own studio. Or not.

Milwaukee Bucks – Warner Bros.

These are two historic organizations (Warner Bros was an original studio and won the 2000s; the Bucks joined the NBA early and won a championship in the 1960s) and both have a record of successful stars (Clint Eastwood, Christopher Nolan, Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

But really this is really an analogy of optimism: both this team and this studio have so much POTENTIAL. Yeah, caps lock level potential.

Milwaukee has arguably the best young player in the game, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Of course, putting Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton next to Giannis is the equivalent of CGI-scrubbing off Superman’s mustache. Warner Bros. owns the rights to DC Comics and the rights to Harry fricking Potter and can’t get it right. (They also just let Lord of the Rings go to Amazon.) With the right moves, the sky is the limit for how many championships they could win and how much money they could make, respectively.

Indiana Pacers – ABC

The basketball historians tell us that Indiana really cares about its basketball. “Mr. Basketball” is a thing there, typified by their love of Indiana Hoosiers basketball, which was great under a coach who threw chairs and loved yelling at his players. But the Indiana Pacers haven’t won a championship in a long time, and you know what? Neither has ABC.

NBC won the 90s, CBS won the 2000s and Netflix/losing viewers is winning the 2010s. Throughout it all, ABC has been good but not great.

Like Indiana. Reggie Miller was great for the Pacers in the 1990s, so he’s the NYPD Blue of basketball. After that, I mean is Detlef Schrempf the Modern Family of basketball? Paul George is basketball’s Shonda Rhimes, and both just left for someone better. ABC has Roseanne/The Conners and Indiana has Victor Oladipo, which is good, but not quite enough for a championship.

Philadelphia 76ers – Lucasfilm

Has anything generated more clicks in the last ten years in their respective fields? The Process was so controversial…did fans love it? Hate it? The Last Jedi was so controversial…did fans love it? Hate it?

Meanwhile, the hits keep coming. And by the way, have been coming since the 1970s. Consider this insane correlation: the 1977-1983 featured Star Wars through Return of The Jedi. At the same time, the 76ers featured Dr. J and Moses Malone. The 1980s finished strong for both with Charles Barkley on the Sixers and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade from Lucasfilm. Then the late 1990s featured the reviled Prequels and reviled Allen Iverson. But lately everything has been billion dollar movies: The Force Awakens, Rogue One, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. (To continue the analogy, Ben Simmons is The Force Awakens, Dario Saric is Rogue One, Joel Embiid is The Last Jedi, Markelle Fultz is Solo.)

Each is also just a knee injury or another bomb from exploding like the Death Star in Return of the Jedi.

Now we just need a Kathleen Kennedy Twitter scandal and our fate will be complete.

Toronto Raptors – Amazon Prime/Video/Studios

Hailing from the north, a new entrant has emerged that may be really good but may also have no fans. Am I talking about Amazon Prime or the Toronto Raptors?

The Raptors burst onto the scene as an expansion team in the 1990s with a hot star in Vince Carter, the way Amazon burst on to the scene with Transparent in the 2010s. A few years later Vince Carter is gone from the Raptors (along with a lot of management turnover) and Jeffrey Tambor is gone from Amazon/Transparent (along with a lot of management turnover). But everyone likes the new leadership (Masai Ujiri and Jen Salke) and the new talent (Kawhi Leonard and Marvelous Miss Maisel/Jack Ryan.)

Does this mean either the Raptors or Amazon have any fans? We’ll probably never know. Because Amazon won’t tell us and America doesn’t care about Canada.

Boston Celtics – Comcast-NBCUniversal

If I had a gun put to my head Gilbert Arenas-style and had to answer, “Who is the best cable company?” I’d probably say Comcast. They’re on top by default. Gun to my head, I’d say Boston is the best team in the East. They’re also on top by default.

Everyone hates their cable company. And no one is good in the East.

The analogy goes further: If you characterized Boston Celtics of the last ten years or so, you’d say it’s a smart, well-run organization that has been aggressive with its acquisitions. Danny Ainge of the Boston Celtics is always on the hunt for a new deal: trading for KG, trading for Ray Allen, trading away KG and Paul Pierce, signing Gordon Hayward, fleecing Cleveland for Kyrie Irving (while stabbing IT in the back).

Sort of like the Comcast nee NBC-Universal: it’s smart and well-run, for a cable company. Brian Roberts is always hunting for a new deal: NBC-Universal, 21st Century Fox, Sky, Time Warner. Is there a company Brian Roberts won’t buy?

But the most similar thing? Despite all the success, most everyone kind of hates them. If you’re in Boston, you love the Celtics, and I assume the people who work for Comcast like it. But everyone else in America hates Boston sports and everyone who has Comcast hates it.

Boston Celtics…the Comcast-NBC-Universal of the NBA.

The Entertainment Strategy Guy

The Entertainment Strategy Guy

Former strategy and business development guy at a major streaming company. But I like writing more than sending email, so I launched this website to share what I know.


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