Baseball and football may still win the TV ratings, but on home video, it’s basketball that rules. Three of Billboard’s top five recreational-sports videos were produced by the NBA, and this week’s release of NBA Superstars 2 could bring the total to four.
What makes basketball tower over the sports-video competition? ”We have the personalities,” says Don Sperling, VP and executive producer for NBA Entertainment. Indeed, three of the best-known athletes ever, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird, each have at least one video in the top 10.
Putting its stock in its superstars, the NBA has taken sports video beyond the dazzling dunks and bloopers into biographical narratives. No. 1 seller Larry Bird: A Basketball Legend and former No. 1 Magic Johnson: Always Showtime retrace the lives and careers of their subjects from childhood to household name. Michael Jordan’s Playground, last year’s best-selling sports video, features Jordan imparting advice and inspiration to a crestfallen kid who has just been cut from his high school team.
The NBA’s winning formula has been to capture its high-profile athletes in a happy marriage of content and form: the nonstop action above the rim wedded to quick-cut rhythms, state-of-the-science graphics, and rock-rap-R&B soundtracks. The new tape, NBA Superstars 2, takes the connection to another level. As before, each player and his ”theme song” are carefully matched up: Charles Barkley careens downcourt to the tune of Steppenwolf’s ”Born to Be Wild”; Clyde Drexler soars and slams to the new jack swing of Guy’s ”Teddy’s Jam 2.” But this time, there are computer-generated effects and cuts to the musical artists doing their own performance thing. More than ever, it’s hard to tell the NBA from the MTV. Play any of these segments alongside Hammer’s hit video ”This Is the Way We Roll” — costarring most of the Golden State Warriors — and you’ll see how completely the two genres have crossed over.
Soon the impact of the NBA approach will be felt outside basketball. Having just signed a coproduction deal with PolyGram Video, NFL Films is planning to update its video efforts. Its first collaboration with PolyGram, NFL Rocks (due during football’s preseason), will match traditional gridiron crunch with lean, mean rock by Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams, and others. NFL president Neil Austrian calls it ”football with an attitude.” Like it or not, sports purists, we’ve seen the future of sports video — and it rocks.