NBA Nickname Jerseys Offer Shrewd Lesson in Creative and Fearless Marketing

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Miami Heat

The “Birdman” flew during the Heat-Nets jersey nickname game in Brooklyn.

If ‘Jesus Shuttlesworth’ can fit across the back of a basketball jersey, surely ‘The Hick From French Lick’ and ‘Round Mound of Rebound’ can, too.

The NBA is on to something again, just as one of its saviors, commissioner David Stern, is on the way out. I don’t know if Stern, who is set to retire Feb. 1, had anything to do with the nickname jerseys that were unveiled during the Heat-Nets matchup last night in Brooklyn. But, no matter the brains behind it, the creation will only continue to line the NBA’s pockets with cold hard cash and further enhance the visibility of the league and its players.

I don’t watch a lot of regular season NBA, but the nickname game hooked me – at least for a few minutes. Certainly, I wasn’t the only one.

‘Jesus Shuttlesworth’ rained jumpers (though not many connected), ‘Birdman’ flew through the air, ‘King James’ ruled the court, but the ‘Truth’ was all that mattered in the end of the Nets’ 104-95 victory.

Some will argue that planting a nickname on the back of a jersey is a cash grab aimed only at increasing jersey sales. That may true. Traditionalists will argue that such jersey shenanigans are disrespectful to the game. That may be true, too.

But it was Stern’s shrewd marketing sense and similarly-aimed outside-the-box thinking –combined with the otherworldly talents of Bird, Magic and Jordan – that built the NBA through the 1980s and 90s – from the Dream Team, to globalization to All-Star weekend and diversity among the league’s most visible employees.

The NBA, under Stern, has been willing to take chances and risk bad PR for the potential big payoff. The nickname jerseys have been met with criticism by some, to be sure. But the positive publicity will far outweigh any backlash.

For business owners, marketers and public relations people, the takeaway is evident: First, be creative and innovative, and then be fearless with your creations, ideas and pitches. Don’t be afraid to stand out from the crowd.

While watching the game last night, I thought it would be neat to sell ‘Hick From French Lick’ jerseys, or ones with’ Dr. J’ or ‘Air Jordan’ or ‘Pistol’ or ‘Mailman’.

As I write this, they’re probably already coming off a conveyor belt in a Taiwan factory. And maybe even a traditionalist or two will purchase one.