JOHN YDSTIE, host:
I went to a basketball game on Thursday night. It was an NBA play-off game -the Washington Wizards against the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was a wonderful event in many ways. Watching these great athletes give everything in this simple but demanding game.
LeBron James, Cleveland's six-foot-nine, 260-pound, all-star forward did things no man that size should be able to do: diving for balls, soaring from the free throw line to slam down tremendous dunks. It was stunning athleticism. A huge leap beyond what players could do when I started watching NBA games 35 years ago.
(Soundbite of music)
YDSTIE: Unfortunately, the advance in athleticism has been more than matched by the advances in crass commercialism at sporting events. Every time there was a break in the action, some advertiser made a loud and unrelenting attempt to stamp a corporate brand in your brain. It started with a pretty young woman on the giant scoreboard screen urging me and the rest of the fans to wave the rally towels we'd been given at the door.
She said it would be an appropriate thank you to Southwest Airlines which provided them. I suppose I should've been grateful, after all a rally towel is certainly more than you get when you fly the airlines these days. You've even got to pay for a pair of headphones to listen to the complimentary music. Then at the next time out, some guy starts yelling really loud over the PA system, who wants a Papa John's pizza?
And people start running around handing out maybe a couple dozen or so pizzas to a crowd of about 20,000 people. And since there was no miracle of the loaves and fishes, most of us didn't even get a slice. Eventually, we got to watch a couple of minutes of inspiring basketball, but then it was the end of the quarter and a pretty young woman was back yelling at us again, this time about the T-shirts that were draped across the back of our seats. She said we should thank Geico, the insurance company, for this fine gift.
Now, I have Geico insurance for my car, but I'd rather have a reduction in my premium than a T-shirt. I mean, who needs another T-Shirt with a corporate logo on it? That was the pattern all night, a little bit of great basketball and a whole lot of grubbing for profits. Selling has always been a part of professional sports. Did I mention that the game was in the Verizon Center?
But now, it seems selling is professional sports. LeBron soars and profits soar. In the end, the magnificent athletic feats are lost in a clutter of towels, T-shirts, and high-decibel huckstering.
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