The New Street Basketball Industry: Who Profits?

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As a young New Yorker, I can remember riding the train on hot summer days up to Rucker Park on 155th street in Harlem to catch a glimpse of the best street ball talent in York City. The legacy of this park speaks for itself. Local and NBA stars past and present have played there in hopes of creating a name for themselves and becoming a legend.

For street basketball followers, when the Entertaineris Basketball Classic at Holcombe Rucker Park kicks off, the summer has officially arrived. Over the delightful chimes of the ice cream truck and the shrieks of children running through sprinklers, you can hear the hoots and cheers of fans at this park as their local basketball gods put a round ball to the asphalt and do the amazing.

The "Rucker" is a necessity for New York City's dedicated basketball fans that don't have much else to celebrate. As rap Great Biggy Smalls once put it, "In the streets, itis a short stop/ You're either slinging crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot." For many youth, basketball is the only ticket towards opportunity and chance at a trip out of the ghetto.


Over the chimes of the ice cream truck and the shrieks of children running through sprinklers, you can hear the hoots and cheers of fans as their local basketball gods put a round ball to the asphalt and do the amazing.


Very few who try their hand at street basketball will make it big. But that doesn't stop fans from all boroughs from religiously congregating at this spot to watch. While they're daydreaming, however, far too many of these patrons fail to realize that large sports corporations have invaded their enclaves and are tapping into the power of street basketball for the purpose of marketing.

Street basketball has been a major part of New York's inner city culture since the late 60's, but up until this past decade, no one outside of its neighborhoods had paid it much attention. Now in 2002, it has become a major focal point of corporate attention.

There is a heightened awareness of the potential of black spending power and the black dollar. In the past decade the inner city has come to resemble a gold mine. Large sports corporations like Nike, Reebok, and AND1 have targeted black youth heavily, latching onto the success and growth of hip hop culture. Recent Reebok adds featured rap stars like Jadakiss and Fabulous, while AND1's success has been built around emulating hip hop's style and attitude.

One of AND1's ads has NBA All-Star Kevin Garnett playing 1 on 25 while Ruff-Ryders recording artist Style's P raps on the other side of the gate, outfitted in a black du-rag and hooded sweatshirt. These campaigns are successful because they talk directly to the youth they are aiming at. They are essentially providing a reality in commercials rarely seen by black youth today.

In her Wall Street Journal article, "In Search of the Stars, Shoe Makers Are Turning to the Playground," staff reporter Maureen Tkacik said, "The focus on street ballers shows how the sneaker companies are racing to cater to the coveted minority teenage audience." Rather than rely on big name professionals, Tkacik explains that the even former street basketball stars who have mad eit big are in heavy demand because they are more accessible to the minority teenager.

Corporations are also driven by the fact that in a $7.5 billion athletic shoe industry, black youth represent 36% of the buyers. More importantly, these companies also understand that the fashion choices this group makes also greatly influence the larger teenage population in the U.S.

At the Rucker's Entertainer Basketball Classic (EBC) players suit up in Reebok uniforms and basketball shoes. The AND1 company, which was formerly the apparel sponsor for the tournament, has gone on sponsor individual players and to put its name on The High School National Championshiops, a nationwide street basketball tour.

It is difficult to find statistics as to how much money these corporations actually pump into the tournaments, but these corporations return every year knowing that there is a profit to be made.



When Reebok provides free game apparel and other accessories to participants and fans they are investing thousands of dollars worth of products. That may seem like a lot of money to throw into a tournament in the middle of the ghetto. But, Reebok isn't investing their money into just any tournament. They are successfully sponsoring the largest and most popular tournament in what is known as the Mecca of basketball.



When Reebok provides free game apparel and other accessories (t-shirts, hats, key chains etc.) to participants and fans they are investing thousands of dollars worth of products. That may seem like a lot of money to throw into a tournament in the middle of the ghetto. But, Reebok isn't investing their money into just any tournament. They are successfully sponsoring the largest and most popular tournament in what is known as the Mecca of basketball.

The EBC consists of 16 teams with about 12 players per team. If you do the math, that is 282 walking advertisements for Reebok. Young fans witness this and go out to buy the same Reebok gear that their heros are wearing.

In this case, it is blatantly clear who benefits. While participants in the tournament receive a free uniform and sneakers, the sports corporations make off with free advertising, new clientele and a profit margin to die for.

Large sports corporations have even aimed some of their major marketing at the student athletes on the high school level.

Yvonne Noble, the principal Crenshaw High School in Calif. became so frustrated with the Nike Corporation that she wrote and editorial for Global Exchange. In the article, poignantly titled "Nike Must Stop Exploiting My Kids" she tells the tale of Nike's underhanded tactics in an ad campaign using Crenshaw's championship winning boy's basketball team.

Initially, Noble admits that she had little knowledge as to how far the relationship between Nike and the team extended. But her investigation revealed that it went a little further than just 15 pairs of sneakers.

Besides outfitting each member of the team with several pair of shoes, hats, game bags, and warm-ups, Nike used the Crenshaw name for their "The Book of..." basketball advertising campaign, a campaign designed to highlight the nation's most successful high school programs.

When Nike tried to getteh ad placed on campus, Noble says she refused because it went against Crenshaw's "education first" philosophy. Unfortunately, the company proceeded to place the ad in the surrounding neighborhood area anyway.

Noble asks, "How does [advertising] profit my student athletes, who do their part to keep Nike's interest, if the inordinate amount of time spent practicing hinders them academically and consequently, eliminates them from college recruits." At the time the article was written several top players on Crenshaw's championship teams had yet to qualify academically for Division I scholarships.

For their exploits, Noble said she believes that companies like Nike could redeem themselves if they wanted to, by funding programs that would provide much needed academic resources to public schools. At the very least, she says, "Nike could sponsor Saturday tutoring for basketball players."

Unfortunately, this kind of contribution is rare. On their website, the AND1 corporation claims to donate 5% of their profits annually to charities who emphasize education. Nike has its P.L.A.Y. Campaign, which develops various athletic camps and plans for safer playgrounds for youth. These efforts might make a difference to the kids who are involved-- but in the multi-billion dollar athletic shoe industry, these efforts turn out to be nothing but token attempts by corporations to cover up for shady business practices.



The money that leaves Spanish Harlem or Bedford Stuyvesant to purchase the latest, most expensive pair of kicks most likely isn't going back into those neighborhoods. Who are we buying from? What contributions are they making towards raising the quality of life in the our communities?



As the end of August roles around and the Rucker tournament passes, most players and fans return to their corners of New York City reeling from the experience only the Rucker could provide. What are most of the people going home to? I can remember those days. I exited that train and was welcomed by the same sense of hopelessness that the ghetto is so well known for. In my eyes, nothing had changed. Schools were still run down, my friends ran the streets with no real direction, and abandoned buildings stood in the likeness of haunted castles.

It would be a great bonus if sports corporations contributed more to the development of the inner cities, but they alone can't be blamed for the exploitation of neighborhood resources and children. Much of the blame has to be placed on us for exploiting ourselves. While neighborhood organizers work with sponsors to compromise the true value of Rucker Park, many dedicated fans stand by, aloof to what's unfolding before them.

The money that leaves Spanish Harlem or Bedford Stuyvesant to purchase the latest, most expensive pair of kicks most likely isn't going back into those neighborhoods. Who are we buying from? What contributions are they making towards raising the quality of life in the our communities? Sponsoring a summer basketball tournament is hardly enough. Providing more quality academic resources and urban programs for youth would be a more fulfilling reward.



ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

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