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Overview

Walter LaFeber's timely analysis looks at the ways that triumphant capitalism, coupled with high-tech telecommunications, is conquering the nations of the world, one mind—one pair of feet—at a time.
With Michael Jordan and the New Global Capitalism, Walter LaFeber has written a biography, a social history, and a far-ranging economic critique. From basketball prodigy to international phenomenon to seductive commercial ideal, Michael Jordan is the supreme example of how American corporations have used technology in a brave, massively wired new world to sell their products in every corner of the globe. LaFeber's examination of Nike and its particular dominion over the global marketplace is often scathing, while his fascinating mini-biography of Michael Jordan and the commercial history of basketball reveal much about American society. For this new paperback edition, LaFeber has added a chapter on globalization in a changed world, after mass protests and since September 11. "Bold, riveting....Brilliantly illuminates how hyper-US capitalism has spread its financial wings around the globe."—Douglas Brinkley "LaFeber brings an impressive intellect to bear on his subject."—Barbara Rudolph, Chicago Tribune

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Editorial Reviews

Owen Parker
A fascinating book on the dynamics of sport, culture, and capitalism in an era of American dominance, with LaFeber posing a number of important questions regarding the future.

Time Out London, 6-13 October 1999

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
...LaFeber poses the question: Is Jordan simply a great salesman or does he represent what some see as an insidious form of cultural imperialism? If the answer is the latter, what are the implications for America's relations to the world? The prospect of getting answers to these questions is intriguing enough to draw the reader through much material familiar to any basketball fan or reader of the financial pages....[T]he book is more about Jordan than the effects of what he has done. —The New York Times
Douglas Brinkley
Bold,riveting....Brilliantly illuminates how hyper-US capitalism has spread its financial wings around the globe.
Barbara Rudolph
LaFeber brings an impressive intellect to bear on his subject.
Chicago Tribune
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
What could be more awe inspiring than the image of Michael Jordan--shaved head shining, tongue waggling, basketball cocked--hanging in the air as he glides in to dunk? Try global communication technology that allows kids in the Canary Islands to watch NBA games in real time and use the Internet to order Nike shoes so they can be like Mike. In assessing the recently retired star's ascent from basketball phenom to international marketing phenomenon, LaFeber The Clash, etc. views Jordan as the harbinger of a new kind of capitalism fueled by information-age media. It's a world in which American transnational companies like Nike have learned to establish brand consciousness with worldwide social and economic impact. Jordan's career corresponded with and was fueled by the emergence of CNN, the Internet and aggressive worldwide marketing. To put Jordan in context, LaFeber links the history of basketball with America's century of economic dominance and writes entertainingly about the development of the sport into a multi-billion-dollar business with licensing spinoffs. He also asks tough questions about Jordan's responsibility as a public figure "politically neutered," in Arthur Ashe's phrase and his muted, awkward reaction to Nike's much criticized labor practices in developing countries. Readers who thought that some necessary cultural criticism was missing from David Halberstam's Playing for Keeps Forecasts, Jan. 18 will find that LaFeber, a Cornell historian, has written the chapter Halberstam neglected and has expanded it into a thought-provoking reflection on the relationship between Jordan and globalization. Aug. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This marvelously original cultural history by eminent historian LaFeber (history, Cornell; The Clash: A History of U.S.-Japan Relations) uses the development and growth of basketball to examine a broad range of issues, including globalization and the changing role of transnational corporations; the impact of Michael Jordan as a global media star and the American dominance of global media; the nature of U.S. power in the post-Cold War era; and the probable consequences of American cultural imperialism at home and abroad. Along the way, he eloquently describes both the North Carolina legacy of Michael Jordan and the impact of David Stearn as National Basketball Association commissioner, examining how their links to transnational entities such as Nike have blown apart governmental regulations and traversed geographical boundaries on the feet of millions. A tightly written treatise on what is wrong in the world today that should find avid readers in both public and academic libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/99.]--Norman B. Hutcherson, Beale Memorial Lib., Bakersfield, CA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
A biography, a social history, and an economic critique in which LaFeber (history, Cornell) looks at one athlete and one company to illustrate how the devices of triumphant capitalism are coupling with high-technology communications to conquer the world one mind at a time. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Owen Parker
A fascinating book on the dynamics of sport, culture, and capitalism in an era of American dominance, with LaFeber posing a number of important questions regarding the future. -- Time Out London
Jay R. Mandle
...[LeFeber] understands the nearly universal celebrity of Michael Jordan and the global profitability of the sportswear manufacturer Nike as something...insidious. According to him, their successes are part of a damaging process in which cultures globally are ''pressured to adjust to changes demanded by...capital...
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Michael Jordan is a potent factor in the global economy, by way of transnational enterprises like footgear producer Nike, as LaFeber (History/Cornell; The Clash: A History of US-Japan Relations, 1997, etc.) demonstrates. In this slight book, LaFeber illustrates the synergy that joins the good and graceful jock and his sneakers with American cultural dominance in the world. Inner-city kids kill for expensive shoes, and Chinese students dress in Chicago Bulls jackets, all in a kind of homage to Jordan. Beginning with the history of basketball (neatly coeval with American ascendancy worldwide), we are brought to the advent of the remarkable Jordan (neatly coeval with the rise of Nike's Phil Knight, the Bill Gates of shoemakers). Knight bought Jordan's product endorsement, and basketball and advertising were irrevocably fused. Professional sports and marketing became one grand worldwide enterprise. The swoosh on Air Jordans was the ensign that led the cultural conquest of the planet as communications techniques blossomed. Indeed, LaFeber makes much ado, with little detail, about the •new post-industrial, information-technological revolution." His real interest is in Jordan's career. The author mentions the star's missteps and shows how he willingly became in thrall to Wheaties, McDonald•s, Rayovac Batteries, Gatorade, and other corporate sponsors in addition to Nike, while he promotes the idea of Jordan as the best athlete ever. Literal, monetary meaning was given to the tag "most valuable player," as the athlete's net worth grew. Michael Jordan is certainly a winning personality, an international celebrity with a spectacular gift. Still, it's all just hype that has Jordan and Nikejoined at the hip pocket. Though certainly real, the story isn't news. Tall people, running and leaping, bouncing balls and throwing them, have assumed mythic proportions that are marketable. In the midst of all the promotion that makes talented athletes highly paid shills, it's easy to lose perspective. This text, somewhat inflated, provides just a little.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393323696
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/28/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 630,258
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Walter LaFeber is professor of history at Cornell University and the author of The Clash and Inevitable Revolutions.

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Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


A Century of Preparation


    At the end of the twentieth century, Americans, their economy, and their culture seemed to dominate many parts of the globe. A basketball player who lived in Chicago, Michael Jordan, was arguably the most recognized and revered of those Americans to billions of people worldwide. In China, schoolchildren ranked him with Zhou Enlai as the two greatest figures in twentieth-century history. The children knew Zhou because he helped create their Communist Revolution. They knew Jordan because he miraculously floated through the air as both an athlete and as a pitchman for American-produced advertisements for Nike shoes, which the children avidly followed on television. His coach in Chicago, Phil Jackson, believed that Jordan "had somehow been transformed in the public mind from a great athlete to a sports deity"—especially when an amazed Jackson saw people kneeling before the statue of Jordan that stands in front of the United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls.

    Jordan's phenomenal athletic prowess was unquestioned. Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight (known for his two national championships as well as his blunt style), told sports columnist Mike Lupica: "Michael Jordan is the best that will ever play this game." Sociologist Harry Edwards, an African American who blisteringly attacked professional sports and the roles assigned black players, declared: "If I were charged with introducing an alien life form to the epitome of human potential, creativity, perseverance, and .spirit, I wouldintroduce that alien life form to Michael Jordan."

    To Edwards and many others, Jordan personified not only the imaginative, individual skills that Americans dream of displaying in a society that adores graceful and successful individualism, but the all-out competitive spirit and discipline that Americans like to think drove their nation to the peak of world power. Coach Jackson phrased it directly: "Michael is a little bit of a shark. He's competitive to the extent that he'd like to beat you for your last cent and send you home without your clothes."

    Such skills quickly translated into money and power in the world, of the late twentieth century. But Jordan was not just an athlete, he was an African-American athlete who earned $30 million a year for playing with the Bulls and twice that amount from his endorsements and personal businesses. Within his own lifetime, African-American athletes had been victimized and exploited—not made multimillionaires. They were also often condemned for choosing merely to dunk basketballs or catch footballs, rather than acting as role models for future doctors, lawyers, or business leaders. That Jordan became a hero for the many races in American society was thus somewhat surprising. That he could transform this role into becoming the most successful advertising figure in the world was historic. His success in good part can be traced back to his family and North Carolina background.


The North Carolina Legacy


Since its founding in 1891, basketball has been dominated by players—African-American and white, male and female—who came from the playgrounds, YMCAs, YWCAs, and athletic clubs of America's cities. Michael Jordan, however, did not grow up in a large urban area. He was born on February 17, 1963, to parents living temporarily in Brooklyn, New York. James Jordan, a sharecropper's son, was attending a Brooklyn training school so he could pursue his ambition of becoming a supervisor at the General Electric plant outside the small town of Wallace, North Carolina. Deloris Jordan was meanwhile moving steadily up the corporate ladder at United Carolina Bank in Wallace.

    Michael grew up in a close-knit middle-class family that revolved around the children's enthusiasms for baseball, football, track, and, to a lesser extent, basketball. He lived in a small town far removed from the violence then shaking much of the South as the nation painfully moved from enforced segregation, which had been in place since the 1890s, to enforced integration of the races. James and Deloris preached, "You just didn't judge people's color." And if ignorant, racist folks hurled insults, you just determined to "move on" rather than let it slow your climb up the middle-class ladder.

    In 1970, the Jordans did indeed move up to better jobs in the larger city of Wilmington, North Carolina. Again, they missed the worst of the civil-rights violence. Michael seldom encountered racial taunts, although he once ground a Popsicle into the hair of a girl who called him "nigger." But Laney High School had been integrated before he arrived, and Jordan became a sports star—but only by his senior year. As a sophomore he was cut from the varsity basketball team. "I went to my room and I closed the door and I cried," he later told sportswriter Bob Greene. "For a while I couldn't stop. Even though there was no one else home at the time, I kept the door shut. It was important to me that no one hear me or see me." Nor could he get dates with girls because, as he recalled, he had an odd haircut and drew laughs for his habit of playing basketball with his tongue hanging out.

    Within months after being cut, Michael's world changed. In his junior year, he suddenly grew to 6'3". He arose at sunup to push his new body through special drills. This development came too late, however, to attract attention from many top colleges. His biographer, Jim Naughton, noted that Jordan was not even rated among the three hundred leading high-school prospects at the start of his senior year. He did enter a summer basketball camp in Pittsburgh where he played well against some of the nation's best young players and was named Most Valuable Player. His talent drew the attention of Roy Williams, an assistant to the legendary coach at the University of North Carolina, Dean Smith. (Williams later became famous in his own right as coach at the University of Kansas.) Michael had never cared for the state university, but his mother did—especially after Dean Smith visited and talked about the importance of education rather than the glories of basketball. Anyway, there were few other offers, and his sister Roslyn {who graduated after only three years of high school) was also going to Chapel Hill.

    For twenty years, Dean Smith's system had been renowned for reaching, but never winning, national championship games. Smith produced superb professional players, employed tough discipline, insisted on nightly study halls, and held the belief that unproven freshmen should devote themselves more to books than to playing time. Jordan's defense and passing skills were weak, but his quickness and imagination on offense, as well as his fire and work ethic, forced Smith to start him alongside two All-Americans (and later pro stars), James Worthy and Sam Perkins. By midseason of his freshman year (1981-1982), North Carolina was ranked number one in the country. Jordan was a leading scorer.

    At the end of his freshman season, he suddenly became a national figure. Jordan ignored a painful throat infection to lead his team to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. Worthy, Perkins, and Jordan then took the Tar Heels through the NCAA Championship tournament until they met Georgetown and the Hoyas' 7'1" All-American, Patrick Ewing, in New Orleans before some 61,000 fans and a huge national television audience.

    With 32 seconds to play, Georgetown led 62-61. Dean Smith was again on the verge of missing a national championship. Smith called a time-out and told the players to get the ball to Jordan for a final shot. Smith was trusting a freshman to make the decisive points. Jordan took a pass on the right side of the floor and shot. The ball swished through the net sixteen feet away. Smith had his championship. Worthy led the scoring with 28 points, but Jordan was the hero. North Carolina's assistant coach Eddie Fogler observed: "That kid doesn't even realize it yet, but he's part of history now. People will remember that shot 25 years from now."

    The nineteen-year-old thus became famous for grace, and success, under immense pressure. "I've seen other great athletes," Dean Smith later declared, "but Michael also has the intelligence, the court savvy ... he was a hero so many times at the end of games—it was uncanny." Jordan's professional coach, Phil Jackson, noted that in the many last-second situations from which Michael emerged the hero, "More often than not, he'll replay the last-second shot he took to win the 1982 NCAA championship.... [he] says to himself, `Okay, I've been here before.'"

    After the triumph in New Orleans, Jordan's college career became anticlimactic, if successful. During his sophomore year, North Carolina failed to reach the NCAA finals, although sports journalists named Jordan College Player of the Year. In the summer of 1983, he led the U.S. Pan-American team to a gold medal in Venezuela, a trip that led him to choose cultural geography as his undergraduate major. In his junior year, the Tarheels again fell short of the NCAA finals. But Jordan had become, in the words of Sports Illustrated's Curry Kirkpatrick, "the finest all-around amateur player in the world."

    In the spring of 1984, Jordan announced he would delay his senior year to turn professional. He had little left to prove in college. Deloris Jordan wanted her son to remain at Chapel Hill until he obtained a degree. James Jordan and, surprisingly, Dean Smith, sided with Michael. In the National Basketball Association's draft in June 1984, college's best all-around player was not the first pick. Or the second. With the first choice, the lowly Houston Rockets selected Hakeem Olajuwon. (A great center, Olajuwon led Houston to NBA championships in 1994 and 1995, the two years Jordan temporarily retired from the game.) Portland, with the second pick, took 7'1" Sam Bowie of Kentucky. Plagued with injuries, Bowie never became an NBA star.

    Chicago, long a losing team, then selected Jordan. Bulls' General Manager Rod Thorn bluntly declared that he wanted a center, not a guard such as Jordan. "We wish he were 7 feet, but he isn't," Thorn griped. "There wasn't a center available. What can you do?" Chicago Tribune columnist Bernie Lincicome suggested that Thorn might count his blessings. Lincicome wrote sarcastically that Thorn and the Bulls "had tried to avoid Jordan" and instead "got stuck with ... maybe the greatest natural basketball talent, inch for inch, in this young decade." Lincicome noted that Jordan was also an attractive person with a sense of humor—which was fortunate because he "will need a few laughs to ease the shock of moving from a winning team at North Carolina to a loser in Chicago."

    Suspicion spread that the Bulls feigned unhappiness so they would not have to pay Jordan as much as he was worth. If so, he quickly destroyed that illusion when he signed a five-year contract for $800,000 annually. Thus Jordan and the Bulls began one of the most successful and profitable journeys in modern sports.

    That happy journey could hardly be anticipated, however, in 1984. Jordan joined a deeply troubled professional league. Basketball was at a crossroads in the United States. Few people abroad seemed to care about the NBA at all, certainly not when it competed with soccer, hockey, or home teams in Europe for attention. Jordan and a new era of technology changed all that.


The Naismith Legacy


Most major sports have obscure beginnings, but basketball's can be pinpointed in time and told in detail. Those are not its only unique qualities. No game became so popular and commercialized more rapidly.

    James Naismith certainly did not set out to make his game ring cash registers. The Canadian-born teacher merely hoped to keep his job at Springfield College in Massachusetts after his superior, Dr. Luther Gulick, ordered him to do something to keep young men out of trouble between football and baseball seasons. The boys in the class were almost out of control; two of the school's instructors had flatly refused to face them. Because it was Massachusetts, any new winter game would best be played indoors. Because Springfield College was a training school for the worldwide missionary activities of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), Naismith's answer would have to deal with the "mind, and soul" (as Gulick put it), as well as the body and especially adrenaline of each student.

    Naismith first tried variations of football and lacrosse indoors, but these quickly got out of hand. Desperate, he began writing rules for a new game. There was to be no striking or running with the ball (as in lacrosse}. The ball was instead to be passed. Nine players were on each side because Naismith's class had eighteen students. (Five on each side became the rule in 1897.) The goal was placed high above the players so they would not as easily fight each other as they would around a ground-level goal. The goals, peach baskets from a nearby orchard, were placed ten feet high {where they have forever remained), because this happened to be the height of the gymnasium's balcony to which Naismith could most easily attach the baskets.

    How new was his sport can be debated. Historians have discovered that for two thousand years the Mayas and Aztecs played a game in which a large ball was to be passed through a ring at the two ends of the court. The losing team's leader was sometimes sacrificed to the gods. In Naismith's home country, the Abnaki of eastern Canada tried to keep an air-filled ball aloft. But no evidence has been found that Naismith knew about these earlier sports.

    Named by one of Naismith's first players as Basket Ball (it finally became one word in 1921), the sport's popularity rapidly spread. Within the first week after Naismith introduced the game, audiences collected to watch the play. The shouts attracted female teachers who quickly taught the game to young women. Within three months after basketball appeared, a women's tournament was held. In 1893, the first women's intercollegiate game took place at Smith College in Massachusetts. When the Smith women learned the game, the only male allowed to watch was the college president, one of supposed sufficient dignity and age as to avoid unwholesome thoughts while watching graceful female athletes.

    A Smith College star, Maude Sherman, married Naismith. But she and her teammates had not played by her husband's rules. Believing that women were "unaccustomed to exercise, and for the most part adverse to it," the organizers tried to protect players by having nine women on each team and requiring that three stay in one of three sections into which the playing floor was divided. A two-section, six-player women's game would not appear until 1938. By 1896, California women drew hundreds of female fans to games, including a match in which Stanford defeated Berkeley 2-1 {each basket counted one point).

    During the 1890s, the YMCA took over the game and spread basketball up and down both coasts. As early as 1892, Brooklyn contracted basketball fever. In Philadelphia it threatened to take over all the city's gymnasiums. Audiences turned violent, especially when referees made unpopular rulings. As historian Keith Myerscough phrased it, YMCA officials began to recoil from Naismith's "Frankenstein-type monster that was now creating havoc in certain quarters." The Frankenstein only grew larger.

    And entrepreneurial. In 1896, a group of Trenton, New Jersey, players discovered they could make money from charging admission. Each player received fifteen dollars per game, a princely sum during the economic depression of the mid-1890s. When they defeated a Brooklyn team 16-1, "The Trentons" began an American tradition by entitling themselves "World Champions." Within two years, an entire professional league appeared—six teams in New Jersey and Pennsylvania—which lasted until 1903. Basketball, it seemed, could produce profits as well as save souls. This was too much for Naismith's old YMCA boss, Luther Gulick. "When men commence to make money out of sport, it degenerates," Gulick lamented. "It has resulted in men of lower character going into the game." The YMCA would not allow "The Trentons" to play in a Y gymnasium.

    It no longer made much difference, however, what the YMCA did. Basketball was not only profiting play-for-pay teams, but producers of equipment. Albert Spalding, for example, had grown wealthy by the 1890s making baseball gloves, balls, and bats. He planned to be the John D. Rockefeller of sports: as Rockefeller ruthlessly integrated the global oil business from drilling to sales, Spalding integrated the sporting-goods business from his own manufacturing plants to sales in over twenty thousand retail accounts. Spalding even went Rockefeller one better: he published and distributed tens of thousands of guidebooks that instructed players and audiences about rules, while providing information about teams. Not surprisingly, the rules often called for Spalding equipment. As Naismith's soccer-type ball gave way to an inflated basketball (slightly larger than the modern version), Spalding efficiently produced and sold the new ball, now standard for the game.

    Basketball was also becoming international. Two years after the 1891 game at Springfield College, a YMCA instructor introduced the sport in France. It had already been played by British women that year and by British men the year before. In 1894, YMCA missionaries supervised the first contests in China and India, and Persia soon joined the list. Canada produced both the sport's founder and many players on the early Springfield College teams.

    The game, however, would not become an international phenomenon until Michael Jordan appeared on the scene. In its early years, it was largely American, with some popularity in Canada and Western Europe. More precisely, it was an American city game. The first dribbling of the ball (instead of merely passing), apparently occurred on a Philadelphia playground in the late 1890s. The wave of immigrants entering the United States between 1890 and 1914 discovered the sport in city settlement houses, YMCAs, and even places of worship. It seemed nearly perfect for new arrivals. The game could be played on small city lots; the players needed nothing more than a ball and some kind of hoop. Jewish youngsters came to dominate New York City tournaments. After all, as The American Hebrew observed, the sport required "quick thinking, lightning-like rapidity of movement and endurance; it does not call for brutality and brute strength." And for the immigrants, it was unquestionably an American game. As Ted Vincent neatly summarized, "Basketball was the game of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal urban coalition [in the 1930s] of Jews, Catholics, and Blacks."

    The first professional team to make a lasting mark on the sport was the New York Celtics {called the Original Celtics), formed in 1921. The Celtics, along with two teams made up of African-Americans—the Harlem Rens and the Harlem Globetrotters—became the most successful clubs in both profitability and in the way they reshaped the game, making it more fluid, graceful, and exciting to watch. These three teams dominated professional basketball during most of the first half of the twentieth century.

    They were helped by new rules that changed the sport. Violence resulting from players chasing balls into the audience stopped when a high fence of chicken wire was placed around the floor. Players thus became known as "cagers," and fights with fans diminished. The wire was removed in most gyms by the time the Celtics and Rens appeared. But no rules could turn basketball into the noncontact sport Naismith wished for. One of the great Celtic players, Nat Holman, recalled that "We wore hip pads, knee guards, and an aluminum cup." Cut faces or "a loosened tooth were common injuries," he remembered. Players did not like to jump, one of them recalled, because "They'd just knock you into a wall."

    Yet with this crowd-pleasing bloodletting also came rules that encouraged crowd-pleasing imagination, speed, and subtlety. For years, baskets were simply attached to long poles. By World War I, however, they were on square "backboards" that allowed players to bank shots from fascinating angles. Until the 1930s, after each basket the referee stopped play and went to center court to toss the ball in the air for opposing players to tap into play. This break aimed at lowering the violence. By the eve of World War II, however, the center jump disappeared. Instead, the team that scored gave the ball over to the other team. Players, especially from the West Coast, began shooting daringly and quickly with one hand instead of launching the usual carefully planned, time-consuming, two-handed set shot.

    By the late 1930s these changes helped make basketball the rage. Time magazine in 1940 believed that its seventy thousand teams made basketball America's largest sport. Women's basketball also grew popular again after some puritanical types, including First Lady Lou Henry Hoover, led a crusade in the 1920s to make the sport more "ladylike" and less exciting. The Amateur Athletic Union, which sponsored many women's sports, responded by running beauty contests at the women's national championships. The players themselves competed in the contests. Many angrily protested this kind of ticket-selling, as they did when professional teams, such as the Golden Cyclones—led by one of the greatest all-around athletes of the century, Mildred "Babe" Didrikson—played in shorts and jerseys. But, as historian Allen Guttmann noted, "The uniforms boosted attendance from under 200 to some 5000 a night."

    Unfortunately for the men, such uniforms did little to increase attendance at their professional games. The American Basketball League, with teams in middle-sized Eastern and Midwestern cities, lasted from 1926 until the Depression year of 1931. Those few in media who followed the pros preferred the stars playing with the Rens, Globetrotters, and Celtics.

    Finally, in the flush postwar year of 1946, modern professional basketball was born, after a long hard labor. The ten-year-old National Basketball League (NBL) was challenged by a new league, the Basketball Association of America (BAA). The BAA had three strengths: its teams were sponsored by arena owners who had money as well as attractive places in which to play; these owners lived in large city markets where media attention and attendance were at a maximum; and the owners used their cash to lure away NBL stars—including one later selected as the greatest player of the 1900 to 1950 years, George Mikan. At 6'10", Mikan was the first well-coordinated giant who could both dominate a game and pull in fans who would pay to watch his graceful hookshot. By 1949, the NBL surrendered. The two leagues merged into the National Basketball Association (NBA) that has embodied the professional sport throughout the rest of the century.

    In the 1950s it was clear that smaller cities such as Syracuse and Rochester, New York, could produce good teams, but not enough fans and media to pay for stars. Thus the 6'10" All-American of the University of San Francisco, Bill Russell, announced he would not play in a small city such as Rochester, which had draft rights to him. The Boston Celtics worked out an intricate deal to obtain Russell. He led Boston to eleven championships in thirteen years. By 1963, the Rochester and Syracuse franchises had moved to larger metropolitan areas. The NBA thus was located in, and ultimately saved by, the biggest media markets.

    In 1952, the Dumont Television Network first aired a pro game. Two years later, the NBA dramatically sped up the game by introducing the twenty-four-second clock. Now the team having the ball could no longer slow the pace or stall while ahead; it had to shoot within twenty-four seconds. The speedy game, with its restricted space that a camera could easily cover (as opposed, say, to baseball, where television could at any moment show only a part of the action), already lent itself well to television. The NBA Commissioner, businessman Maurice Podoloff, saw to it that teams supplied free player photos to the media. He strongly discouraged team owners from releasing bad news (such as low gate receipts). Podoloff and the NBA were beginning to understand the importance of marketing and public relations, and how to manipulate both.

    In the 1960s and early 1970s, the NBA reached new heights of popularity and profit. Fans avidly followed individual matchups, especially the intense rivalry between two African-Americans, Boston's Bill Russell and Philadelphia's 7'1" Wilt Chamberlain who, except when guarded by Russell, was the game's greatest scorer. In 1975 a rival league tried to tap into the game's popularity. The American Basketball Association, however, lacked the financial backing, big-city media markets, and television contracts now required for survival. By the time Michael Jordan turned professional, the ABA had been forced to merge with the NBA.

    But as Jordan left Chapel Hill, the NBA itself was stumbling. Revelations of extensive drug use by players, increased violence on the court, and the retirement of Russell and Chamberlain began to raise the question of whether professional basketball could survive. The ABA, however, had given the NBA a life-saving present: Julius "Dr. J" Erving, whose leaping, floating, and slam dunks astonished fans. Erving's elegance, both on and off the court, helped cleanse the game and prepared the sports world for Michael Jordan. And back of Erving stood the ghosts of at least a half-century of great African-American players who had overcome immense obstacles to prepare the world for Erving, Jordan, and others.

(Continues...)

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Table of Contents

Preface 13
Ch. I A Century of Preparation 27
Ch. II The Globalization of Michael Jordan 49
Ch. III Bittersweet Championships 75
Ch. IV New Frontiers - and Inner Cities 90
Ch. V A Faustian Bargain 113
Ch. VI "The Greatest Endorser of the Twentieth-Century" or "An Insidious Form of Imperialism"? 130
Acknowledgments 165
Notes 167
Selected Bibliography 181
Index 185
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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2000

    The Dark Side of American Culture and Media

    This is not a book about basketball. It's not a book about Michael Jordan. It's a book about how Michael Jordan and the sport of basketball epitomize a new era of globalization, international communications, transnational corporations and 'soft' imperialism. Tracing the history and evolution of basketball, the NBA, and Michael Jordan, Walter LaFeber introduces a darker side of sports and culture. The book describes how when Jordan joined the Chicago Bulls the conditions for his success as a public figure had been predetermined. Using Nike and Jordan as an example, LaFeber demonstrates the power of transnational corporations and media technology to showcase American popular culture to the world. Throughout the book, the author criticizes Nike's relentless pursuit of profits at the expense of minority groups, exploited workers in developing countries, and American society in general. Ultimately, he suggests the Nike and Jordan combination illustrates the significant consequences of capitalism gone global. LaFeber describes how the media's continual broadcast of Jordan's image, and the products he endorsed, contributed to a change in the culture's of the world. He argues that the ideological battleground of the new millenium will pit the forces of culture against the forces of capital. While LaFeber's conclusions are extreme, he paints a compelling argument. At the very least, his book highlights the issues faced by a world where the notion of a global village has become a reality.

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