The NBA Is More Than Just a Game

The NBA is more than world-class competition on the court; it’s an organization that seeks to build commonality among disparate people and bring them together around a shared passion. We do this through our global business, which currently accounts for about 10% of total team and league revenue and includes partnerships with a variety of companies in markets around the world, a robust digital platform that brings millions of fans to NBA games every year and programs that support youth development and other social issues.

The league’s current structure divides 30 teams into two conferences of three divisions each and features a unique format where the top seed in each conference plays the lowest-seeded team (1 vs. 8). The winners of the division semifinals advance to a best-of-seven series against the second and third seeds, respectively. The top teams in each conference then meet in a best-of-seven championship series known as the NBA Finals, which is traditionally held during June.

Over the course of a long regular season, the NBA’s players play 82 games each. They are joined by a group of coaches and other front-office staff, as well as a network of trainers and equipment managers. The league has long emphasized player safety, with strict rules and frequent medical evaluations. The NBA has a strong reputation for attracting star players and producing some of the most exciting and high-scoring games in sports history.

In addition to the thrill of reliving the game-changing plays and storied rivalries that make up the rich tradition of the NBA, fans enjoy reliving individual sagas and admiring the excellence of past players, coaches and teams. In particular, the NBA has a deep commitment to social responsibility, with its NBA Cares program leading the way.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the NBA and its teams made adjustments to the schedule and even cancelled some home games. However, the league was able to continue to attract fans and sell merchandise through its digital platforms. The NBA also benefited from the widespread interest in its players’ plight to find safe housing during the pandemic, with many fans pledging their support for them through social media.

As the NBA prepares to negotiate its next collective-bargaining agreement, Runstedtler’s research reveals that the public narratives about the league don’t just come from what fans see on the court or what players do in their free time. They also stem from decades-long battles between black labor and white ownership.

That’s why we should treat every story that purports to reveal a problem with the league’s business with a great deal of skepticism. The information ecosystem that feeds these stories doesn’t work on investigations, but on micro-scoops about meaningless transactions and gives privileged access to unnamed “sources” while elbowing out anyone who wants to try to hold the league to account from a business perspective.