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Volume 25 No. 134

NBA Season Preview

A passionate following from younger fans has helped boost the league over the past decade

America’s "true sporting pastime" begins tonight with the tipoff of the new NBA season, as basketball "does the best job of all major sports in tapping into the country’s cultural psyche and in keeping pace with the way it is moving," according to Martin Rogers of USA TODAY. When it comes to "engagement and interaction, the bewildering domain of online life is dominated by the NBA, with the athletes among the most prolific and creative content providers." The NBA has "embraced everything that America’s youth likes and plays just as big a role in telling it what it should like next." Warriors G Stephen Curry’s latest sneakers "will generate a larger online impression than even Tom Brady’s latest spectacular performance." Football "isn’t going away, but if you think it is the only sport worthy of pastime status, you’re almost certainly not of the Snapchat generation" (USA TODAY, 10/16).'s Angel Diaz wrote the NBA "benefits from an embarrassment of riches in terms of star power, and the league obviously does a way better job of letting their faces be seen and their off-court personas celebrated" compared to the NFL. NBA stars' outfits and sneakers are "put under a microscope before games, everybody shares Steph Curry's pregame rituals, fans respect LeBron James' music choices when he debuts something on his social platforms, and petty social media spats between superstars are treated like reality TV." The NBA "comes across as more human, more real," while the NFL "still has this archaic, conservative military-like way of doing things" (, 10/15).

CAN'T STOP, WON'T STOP: In L.A., Dan Woike writes the NBA over the offseason has "loved the year-round attention -- it actively leaned into it, going so far as to televise every summer league game even as the level of play fluctuated between entertaining and bad pick-up." Because of this, the league can "afford to leave its biggest star home on opening night," with LeBron James and the Lakers not opening until Thursday. Tonight's Celtics-76ers game is part of a "rivalry that should define the Eastern Conference for the next five seasons." It "isn’t an opener" but is a "main event." The NBA "can afford" to have James as a "fan on opening night" (L.A. TIMES, 10/16). In DC, Tim Bontemps notes tonight will mark the "first time in more than a decade" that James "won’t be playing on opening night" (WASHINGTON POST, 10/16).

NOT SLOWING DOWN: In Chicago, Mike McGraw writes for "all the imbalance and lack of competitiveness" at the top of the league, the NBA "remains as popular as ever." The Warriors in winning three of the last four championships "haven't done anything to diminish interest in the league." ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy said, "It's amazing to me how viewership of TV and all of that has been so great when the Lakers have been bad for a while, the Knicks have struggled, the Nets have really struggled, and Chicago over the last couple years has been in a downturn. ... It's fascinating how the NBA popularity is still growing" (Chicago DAILY HERALD, 10/16).

This is Zenni's first sports sponsorship, and the company is expected to sign some Bulls players
Photo: BULLS

The Bulls have signed a jersey patch deal with online eyewear company Zenni Optical, becoming the 26th team in the league to have a jersey patch deal. The company’s logo will be on the team's jersey beginning Thursday when the Bulls open the '18-19 season in Philadelphia against the 76ers. Financial terms were not disclosed, but the jersey patch deal is part of a five-year sponsorship that makes Zenni the official eyewear partner of the Bulls. The deal also includes digital assets, in-arena signage and activations, branding on media interview backdrops and community initiatives. This season marks the second year of the three-year NBA jersey patch pilot program. The deal is the first sports sponsorship for the Bay area-based Zenni and the company is expected to also sign endorsement deals with some Bulls players. The Bulls retained Excel Sports Management in the deal. Zenni did not use an agency. With this deal, the Pacers, Rockets, Thunder and Wizards are the only four team remaining without a jersey deal.

Zenni Optical
Ultimate Software
Blue Diamond
Walt Disney World
Western Union
Flagstar Bank
Sun Life
Frost Bank
Trail Blazers
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NBA Jersey Patch
Oracle Arena, originally built in '66, is currently the oldest venue across the NBA landscape

One of the Warriors' "biggest sources of motivation" this season is that it is the "last opportunity" to win a championship in Oakland, according to Nick Friedell of The Warriors following this season will move out of Oracle Arena and into the Chase Center in S.F., and Warriors G Klay Thompson said, "We want to do it for the fans of Oakland. ... It's leaving a big legacy behind in Oakland because people might not get to see us as much in San Francisco. And just enjoying this every night." Friedell noted winning one more championship in Oracle Area, for the "fans in the East Bay, was a major point" for Warriors coach Steve Kerr during training camp. Thompson believes that the team "will feed off that pride throughout the season." Kerr said, "We know this new arena's going to be great for our organization, and it's going to provide an incredible viewing experience for people coming in, but that doesn't make it any easier to leave Oracle." Warriors G Stephen Curry said, "Our fan base has been tremendously supportive. They've given us a feared place to play in from an opponent standpoint in terms of the noise and the energy and the atmosphere. That's something we really relied on" (, 10/14).

NOSTALGIA SETTING IN: In S.F., Ann Killion writes this year is "all about Oakland" for the Warriors, as their the last campaign in the East Bay "will be the story of the season." A "smoky nostalgia will penetrate everything about this coming season" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 10/16). The AP's Janie McCauley writes the Warriors' move to S.F. "will be a tough one for many." Fans, players, coaches and even execs all "realize how much the Warriors have done for the East Bay in nearly five decades at Oracle," even through the "down years." Warriors F Kevin Durant said, ''It's still tough for us moving out of Oakland. But we're just trying to come out this season and let them know that even though we're moving we're still going to be here in the Bay Area, we're still going to be your team and hopefully people understand that and realize we're still going to be the Bay Area's team no matter if we're playing in San Jose, Oakland or San Francisco'' (AP, 10/16).

REMEMBERING IT ALL: THE ATHLETIC's Phil Taylor noted Oracle Arena, built in '66, is the "oldest venue in the NBA," and as the Warriors begin their final season there, the people "who played there, coached there, broadcasted there or just watched games there are already feeling nostalgic about the place." Though the Warriors’ "current dynasty is unquestionably the high point in the life of the building, it represents just one part of Oracle’s eclectic history." The first ABA game "was played there," and the Grateful Dead have "played more concerts there than any other indoor venue." In the ‘70s, roller derby "drew raucous crowds with the Bay Bombers." The Golden Bay Earthquakes of the Major Indoor Soccer League "bounced balls off the arena walls in the ’80s, and during the inline skating boom of the ’90s, the Oakland Skates played their home matches in the start-up Roller Hockey International League" (, 10/14).

RINGING IN THE NEW YEAR: The Warriors will receive their '17-18 championship rings tonight before they open the season against the Thunder, and Curry said that the ring celebration is "unlike anything the team does all season." He called it the "weirdest night of the year." Curry: "You're celebrating something that happened four months ago and then you got to appreciate the moment, see the banner fall, feel the energy from the crowd, then you got to put the rings back, go warm up for two and a half minutes and then play an NBA basketball game where the other team is just salivating, waiting to get ahold of you after seeing the whole ring ceremony." Thompson said, "It is a different feel obviously. Especially the lead-up and the hype to the game, but I'd rather have a ring night every year than not have one that's for sure" (, 10/15).

Palm initially approached Curry to invest in the company back in the summer of '17
Photo: PALM

Warriors G Stephen Curry is the "public face" of Palm, a tech startup which has borrowed the original personal digital assistant company's name and "at least some of its ethos," according to Harry McCraken of FAST COMPANY. The company's debut eponymous product "resembles a smartphone, makes calls and runs Android apps, but it's remarkably diminutive -- more like a few stacked credit cards than the Hershey bar-sized handsets of today." With his latest addition of Palm, Curry, "through his endorsement deals," has earned an estimated $42M in '18. But Curry is "interested in pursuing more meaningful collaborations that will help prepare him for the day when he's no longer on an NBA roster." Curry chose this partnership because he "believes in its potential to make people -- including himself -- 'more present, more energetic, more engaged with family.'" Palm Product-Management Head David Woodland was the "one who'd first thought to approach" Curry to invest in the company in the summer of '17. An "earnest pitch" by Woodland to Curry's team "led to face time with the NBA star himself over Labor Day weekend at his gym." The timing was "serendipitous" for all parties involved, as Curry and his SC30 group were "already scouting for opportunities that went beyond standard endorsements." Palm and Curry "aspire to a deeper, more productive relationship" going forward (, 10/15). BLOOMBERG NEWS' Scott Moritz noted Curry's backing of Palm could potentially be "giving the device some cachet among younger customers" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 10/15). Curry is "expected to wear" the Palm during "pregame warmups and workouts" with the Warriors (, 10/15).

The NBA season tips off tonight with the league’s sponsors rolling out plenty of new activations and campaigns. LeBron James’ debut with the Lakers on Thursday night will serve as a catalyst for two partners. Nike will feature its NBA endorsers highlighting products for the season through digital and social media efforts. It will host a watch event in L.A. on Thursday for the Lakers-Trail Blazers game. A House of Hoops retail pop-up will be open in Microsoft Plaza in L.A. from Thursday-Monday. James also will take part in the 30th anniversary of Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign, which will feature the three-time NBA champ along with Warriors F Kevin Durant, Celtics G Kyrie Irving, Thunder F Paul George, Nets G D’Angelo Russell, Raptors F OG Anunoby and Bulls F Wendell Carter Jr. in both digital and print with a TV commercial plan. Meanwhile Beats By Dr. Dre, one of the NBA’s newest partners, will debut its first official NBA spot on Thursday, which features James’ preparation for the season. Beats will be running the first NBA Instagram Story Full Takeover with content surrounding the Lakers’ home opener on Saturday. Beats also will be activating with new team partners, including the 76ers.

Here is a list of other activation highlights:

* American Express
AmEx again is the presenting partner of the TNT Road Show and Halftime Report. The AmEx Jersey Assurance will be promoted on social and digital channels around tip off. If a fan purchases an active NBA player jersey at the NBA Store on 5th Avenue in N.Y. or using their AmEx card, the fan has a full year to trade in their jersey if that player switches teams as a result of trade or free agency.

* Express
As part of its expanded partnership with the NBA, the retailer will unveil its second “NBA Game Changers” campaign centered around five endorsers -- Pacers G Victor Oladipo, Hawks F John Collins, Nuggets G Jamal Murray, Hawks G Trae Young and Magic C Mo Bamba. Express also will introduce an NBA-licensed collection in November with a robust assortment of men’s apparel available in-store in select markets and online at A women’s NBA-licensed collection is due in ’19.

* Jack Daniel’s
The spirits brand will conduct The Small Ball Arcade Basketball Tournament. This nationwide activation will give fans the opportunity compete in a head-to-head, single elimination arcade style basketball tournament in a nearby available market. The winner will win a trip for two to NBA All-Star Weekend in Charlotte.

* Kia
The automaker will continue as the title sponsor of Kia NBA Tip-Off with social promotion and coverage for the first two weeks of the season. Kia also will continue to sponsor’s “30 Teams 30 Days” content series, “Countdown Clock” and “Season Preview.” The company will champion its #KiaWhoYaGot social sweepstakes across Twitter and Instagram, asking fans who they got for the Tip-Off week’s matchups for a chance to win NBA tickets to a regular season game.

* MGM Resorts
To tip off the inaugural season of its NBA deal, MGM will be sponsoring the new Team Win Totals platform on MGM is also the first authorized gaming operator of the NBA.

* PepsiCo (Frito-Lay)
Ruffles will host its Ridge challenge sweepstakes until Dec. 31. Fans have the opportunity to play the 4-point Ridge line on NBA 2K19, earn virtual credit and win prizes like gaming stations, sound systems and copies of NBA 2K19.

* The Warriors' jersey sponsor will host season tip-off promotions for members across its sites in the U.S., Japan, and Taiwan through Friday. Each promotion is a custom "points back" offer, where members will receive a set number of rewards on their purchases sitewide.

* State Farm
The insurance giant is the presenting partner of the Assist of the Week video feature across Instagram. State Farm later this year will launch its latest TV ad campaign with three spots featuring Rockets G and longtime State Farm endorser Chris Paul.

The NBA heads into the '18-19 season with 26 league-level partners, unchanged from last season. Beats by Dre is in its first full season as an NBA league sponsor, covering the audio, headphone and wireless speaker markets. Beats replaces Harman/JBL, which had been a league sponsor since '14. Also in the first season of a multiyear deal is MGM Resorts Int'l, which serves as the league's official gaming partner. The landmark partnership will see MGM Resorts use official NBA data and branding across its land-based and digital sports betting offerings in the U.S. YouTube TV also joins the roster this season as the league's streaming service partner, following its multiyear agreement in March to serve as the first presenting sponsor of the NBA Finals. Cisco, which had been a league sponsor since '07, is not returning in the IT and networking solutions category. The league's banking category also remains vacant, as BBVA did not renew its deal last season. The list below also excludes any NBA deals that are considered promotional partnerships.

2K Sports Video game software
Adidas Footwear
American Express Payment services
Anheuser-Busch InBev Beer (alcohol, non-alcoholic malt beverage) Online auto retailer
Beats By Dre Audio, speaker, headphones
Brown-Forman (Jack Daniel's) Spirits
EA Sports Video game software
ExxonMobil (Mobil 1) Motor oil, motor fuel, lubricant
FanDuel Daily fantasy sports
Foot Locker Athletic retailer
Kaiser Permanente Healthcare
Kia Motors Automotive
Kumho Tire Tire
MGM Resorts Int'l Gaming
Nike On-court outfitter
New Era Headwear provider
PepsiCo (Gatorade) Sports drinks, nutrition
PepsiCo (Mountain Dew, Aquafina,
Brisk, Doritos, Ruffles)
Soft drink, water, iced tea, salted snacks
SAP Business analytic software, business intelligence software
Spalding Basketballs, backboards
State Farm Insurance
Taco Bell QSR
Tissot Timekeeper
Under Armour Apparel, footwear
YouTube TV Streaming service
Nike had a 10-day window last month to match Hayward's new shoe deal with Anta
Photo: getty images

NBC SPORTS BOSTON noted Celtics F Gordon Hayward has formally "changed shoe sponsors" after announcing his new deal with Chinese apparel brand Anta and "ending his run with Nike." Hayward last month "agreed to a four-year shoe deal with Anta, giving Nike 10 business days to match the offer." They "didn't match the offer so now Hayward will be sporting plenty of new gear this season." The deal includes a "signature shoe planned for next fall" (, 10/15).

NICE TIMING: Tissot announced partnerships with the Bulls and Wizards that makes it the official watch of both teams. The watchmaker now has sponsorships with six NBA teams, and it is the NBA's official watch at the league level. The Swiss brand also has partnered with Warriors G Klay Thompson and Hawks rookie G Trae Young, and is extending its deal with Hornets G Tony Parker. The athletes will appear in multimedia global campaigns for Tissot, while supporting dedicated fan content and engagement (Tissot).

AUTOMATIC ENGAGEMENT? ADWEEK's David Cohen noted Nike has "teamed up with conversational artificial intelligence platform Snaps on a Facebook Messenger bot for its Jordan Brand." Beta-testing of the new Messenger bot "began around the time" of the NBA’s All-Star Weekend in February. Nike said that the bot is "generating open rates" of 87%, "far outpacing" the typical 15-20% it sees from emails. Jordan Brand Global Senior Dir of Digital Dan Harbison added that while he "could not offer specific numbers on how many people are using the bot, his team is really happy with the fact that engagement with the bot has remained strong despite it being made available to a much broader audience" (, 10/13).

DEWING IT RIGHT: Mtn Dew Ice has added several names to its roster of athletes that already includes 76ers F Joel Embiid and Thunder G Russell Westbrook. Joining the brand are several top '18 NBA Draft picks: Kings F Marvin Bagley III, Cavaliers G Collin Sexton, Grizzlies F Jaren Jackson Jr. and Knicks F Kevin Knox, as well as Lakers G Josh Hart and Rockets C Clint Capela. Additionally, WNBA Las Vegas Aces F A'ja Wilson becomes the first female basketball player to join Mtn Dew Ice's roster. The Mtn Dew Ice lineup will engage in national and local marketing initiatives, from in-store and event activations to digital and social media campaigns -- and a new TV commercial featuring a superstar from the Dew roster that will premiere in the coming weeks (Mtn Dew).

The Lakers were the NBA's No. 1 team on social media before LeBron James’ arrival this summer, and NBA social media rankings through September reveal he has expanded their lead. The Lakers have nearly 35 million total followers, including a league-leading 7.3 million followers on Twitter. They led the league with nearly 400,000 new followers last month alone, but the Rockets added around 275,000 followers -- more than double the Lakers’ rate of growth. Combined, the Lakers’ and Warriors’ total number of followers is roughly equal to the total of the entire bottom half of teams in the league. Meanwhile, James’ social media following has led the NBA for several years, and it has expanded even more with his move to L.A. He has more than 60 million more total followers than Warriors G Stephen Curry, who ranks second. Data from HookIt also reveals that for nine of the top 10 players ranked, Instagram is home to their greatest number of followers. For more social media metrics such as this, check out (RG Live).

Lakers F LeBron James
Warriors G Stephen Curry
Heat G Dwyane Wade
Warriors F Kevin Durant
Thunder G Russell Westbrook
Rockets F Carmelo Anthony
Rockets G Chris Paul
Celtics G Kyrie Irving
Rockets G James Harden
Wizards C Dwight Howard
Spurs F Pau Gasol
T'wolves G Derrick Rose
Thunder F Paul George
Pistons F Blake Griffin
Warriors G Klay Thompson
Trail Blazers G Damian Lillard
Wizards G John Wall
Hawks G Jeremy Lin
Cavaliers F Kevin Love
Lakers G Rajon Rondo
Pelicans C Anthony Davis
Lakers G Lonzo Ball
Mavericks F Dirk Nowitzki
Nuggets G Isaiah Thomas
Hornets G Tony Parker
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1 Lakers 34.9M 7.3M 21.5M 6.0M
2 Warriors 27.4M 5.9M 11.3M 9.6M
3 Bulls 26.0M 4.0M 18.1M 3.8M
4 Heat 23.3M 4.6M 15.5M 3.0M
5 Cavaliers 18.9M 3.3M 8.8M 6.8M
6 Rockets 16.0M 2.7M 10.5M 2.8M
7 Celtics 15.4M 3.3M 9.0M 3.1M
8 Thunder 13.4M 2.6M 7.2M 3.6M
9 Spurs 12.9M 3.4M 7.2M 2.3M
10 Knicks 9.9M 2.1M 5.9M 1.8M
11 Kings 8.4M 996,100 6.6M 804,00
12 Clippers 7.1M 1.4M 3.8M 1.9M
13 Mavericks 6.8M 1.5M 4.4M 864,600
14 Pacers 5.8M 1.1M 3.3M 1.3M
15 Raptors 5.6M 1.7M 2.3M 1.5M
16 Magic 4.9M 1.5M 2.8M 698,900
17 Trail Blazers 4.7M 1.1M 2.4M 1.1M
18 76ers 4.6M 1.6M 1.7M 1.3M
19 Nets 4.5M 899,200 2.7M 854,500
20 T'Wolves 4.0M 896,000 1.9M 1.2M
21 Suns 3.7M 1.0M 1.9M 822,200
22 Bucks 3.7M 921,900 1.6M 1.1M
23 Hawks 3.7M 1.2M 1.6M 841,200
24 Pelicans 3.6M 857,100 1.7M 1.0M
25 Hornets 3.5M 893,200 1.8M 877,800
26 Nuggets 3.5M 817,200 2.0M 677,500
27 Pistons 3.4M 861,500 1.8M 744,400
28 Grizzlies 3.4M 955,600 1.8M 601,600
29 Jazz 3.3M 859,200 1.8M 662,400
30 Wizards 3.3M 884,800 1.5M 884,000
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Napear (c) and Christie (r) worked on TV broadcasts the last two seasons to prepare for this transition

In Sacramento, Noel Harris noted former NBAer Doug Christie, who played five seasons with the Kings, will "be the color analyst for the team’s broadcasts on NBC Sports California this season alongside longtime play-by-play announcer Grant Napear." Christie is "taking over the role Jerry Reynolds held" for the last 20 seasons. Reynolds, while no longer working full-time, will still "do 10 games with Napear at Golden 1 Center while joining the pre- and postgame shows for the other 31 home contests." Napear and Christie "already have a rapport from doing 'The Grant Napear Show with Doug Christie' radio program for a few years" on Sacramento-based KHTK-AM. Napear and Christie have also "worked on 10 TV broadcasts for each of the last two seasons to prepare for this transition" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 10/15).

BACK FOR MORE: ESPN has reached a multiyear extension with game analyst Hubie Brown, who will continue to call regular season and playoff game telecasts. Brown will also continue to serve as the analyst for the net's "NBA Sunday Showcase on ABC" alongside play-by-play man Mark Jones (ESPN).

TRANSITION GAME: Former AT&T SportsNet Southwest host Bart Enis will have a "new role as pregame and postgame host for Rockets radio broadcasts" on Houston-based KBME-AM this season. He also will "work alongside" play-by-play man Craig Ackerman during home games and "will contribute to those broadcasts as Ackerman sees fit" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 10/12).

FIRST SUB: In Chicago, Phil Rosenthal notes ESPN’s Adam Amin will "handle TV play-by-play" duties for Bulls-Mavericks on NBC Sports Chicago on Oct. 22, filling in for Neil Funk. Funk, who will "turn 72 this year, has been calling Bulls games" since '91 and has "been their TV voice for a decade." The team announced he "will reduce his workload by 20 games, which will be handled by a rotation of substitutes" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 10/16).

Pacers G Victor Oladipo "vowed to start pushing the envelope" when it came to talking about politics. He attended a campaign rally last week with former VP Joe Biden, where he "publicly endorsed" U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.). Oladipo said, "I used to be conservative but that really didn't get me anywhere." Cautious thinkers might have "warned Oladipo that sticking his hand in the political arena would risk alienating half of his growing fan base." But Oladipo said that he "isn't interested in staying quiet." He said that he is "interested in helping change the world, and he's not sure that can be done quietly from the sidelines." Oladipo is not going to let people "prevent him from speaking his mind" (, 10/15).

THE BUTLER DID IT: The skyway connecting Marquette Avenue and 6th St in downtown Minneapolis has "five pillars decorated" in a T'Wolves promotion. Four pillars are "draped with giant posters of four starters -- Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Taj Gibson and Jeff Teague." The fifth pillar, the one in the middle, is "covered by a standard Wolves logo." Something is "missing, and it’s not subtle." It is the T'Wolves "best player" Jimmy Butler, who is "not up there because he demanded a trade, then went bonkers in practice, then torched the front office in a national TV interview, then encouraged fans to boo him in the home opener" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 10/16).

NAMES: Reebok is still paying Basketball HOFer Allen Iverson $800,000 a year, as it has been since they signed him to a "lifetime contract." Last week, Reebok President & CEO Matt O'Toole said that the company "thought it was still worth it." O'Toole: "He has a place in our heritage, and there is a group of consumers who want to connect to that. He's relevant for a lot our consumers" (, 10/15)....Jazz C Rudy Gobert, last year's Defensive Player of the Year, donated a '19 Kia Stinger to his charity, Rudy's Kids. As part of the Kia NBA Performance Awards programs, winners are "given the opportunity to donate" a '19 Kia Stinger to their charity of choice. Rockets G James Harden (MVP), 76ers G Ben Simmons (Rookie of the Year) and Clippers G Lou Williams (Sixth Man of the Year) were the other NBA year-end honorees to "gift their vehicles" to Casa de Esperanza, Royal Children's Hospital and Brotherhood Crusade, respectively (, 10/15). 

IN MEMORY: ABA and Pacers co-Founder Dick Tinkham died Sunday at 86 after a "battle with advanced muscular distrophy." One of the first owners of the Pacers, Tinkham "devoted himself to keeping the often struggling ABA -- and, in turn, the Pacers -- afloat." In the early '70s, he was a "key player in the creation of Market Square Arena." The Pacers called Tinkham a "founding father" and a "guiding light" in both the ABA and Pacers organization (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 10/16).