The following is a compilation documents from The Great Narrative Shortage of 2017, which nearly toppled one of the NBA’s most storied franchises. Let it serve as a reminder that cliched promotional narratives must be used sustainably, lest a successful team run out and become desperate.
Scene 1: It’s August 2017. The Trail Blazers are two months removed from winning the NBA finals with a talented, well-rounded team. The players report for camp soon, and Portland’s marketing department is in disarray. Two executives, Dave and Greg (names changed to protect the guilty), frantically attempt to find a way to sell fans on season tickets for a team which finished 60-22 and won one of the most thrilling Finals in recent memory. Let’s join the action there.
Dave: Alright, let’s calm down and step back here. At its core, what are we trying to do?
Greg: Sell the Trail Blazers as a team and a brand.
Dave: Right. So why is it so hard? We’ve done it for years! We’ve sold out entire seasons of lottery basketball! We’re the best marketing team in the NBA! Season Ticket promos are right in our wheelhouse.
Greg: Well, let’s go down the list. No one buys that Lillard’s still a scrappy outsider who needs to prove he belongs. He was Finals MVP, for God’s sake.
Dave: Matthews used to be a standby, but we’ve already plugged his narrative to death. We even made him meta-reference how much he’s talked about this in last year’s promo. People just don’t care anymore that he was undrafted.
Greg: Batum’s long since justified his contract. Fans won’t buy that he still has to show he deserves it. Remember when we had Meyers Leonard? He had the best story of anyone. Shame he never panned out.
Dave: And Aldridge–God, Aldridge–
Greg: Never a less promotable star.
Dave: He never even gave us a story for us to run into the ground.
Greg: Good basketball player plays basketball well. Who cares? It’s like he’s making fun of us. We should have taken Morrison that year.
Intern, just wandered in with coffee: Why not pitch a talented team full of capable, charismatic players?
(Pause, as Intern slowly recognizes the utter absurdity of this statement. He shuffles out of the room.)
Dave: Alright. I think we’ve only got one option left.
Greg: Yep. It’ll be a tough sell, but I think it’s all we have.
Scene 2: Paul Allen’s office at the Trail Blazers headquarters. Allen sits at his desk, thoughtfully tapping some poor giraffe’s vertebrae (a backscratcher, evidently) against his hand.
Dave: Sir, I’m not sure we can overstate the severity of this situation. We have to find a narrative, and fast, before the season starts. We’ve got terabytes of dimly-lit footage of players working out, but it’s useless without a pitch.
Allen: We’re good at basketball. There’s your pitch.
(Both execs think better of their eyerolls just in time.)
Greg: With all due respect, I’m not sure you understand marketing. Fans will riot at the very least if they don’t hear the story they’ve heard for years. The Blazers are fighters; they work hard and persevere despite being overlooked; and they work out exclusively in semi-darkness. Those are our three premises.
Dave: Deviation would be catastrophic, sir. We promise.
Allen, unconvinced: So what’s your solution?
Greg: We have a plan, but it’s radical.
(Dave pulls out iPhone. Greg gives Dave a hard elbow to the ribcage and pulls out Windows phone. He pulls up an image)
Dave: As you can see, sir, a few inches notwithstanding, there’s nothing Mr. Aldridge gives us that Mr. Morrison does not, and at this point, drastic measures are needed.
Allen: Guys, I’m not sure you understand basketball…
Greg, wishing it hadn’t come to this: Mr. Allen, don’t you understand? We will be the Spurs.
Allen: Oh God. Gentlemen, do whatever is necessary.
Scene 3: Adam Morrison’s house in Spokane. It’s dark, and Morrison is tied to a chair.
Dave, into microphone: Adam Morrison, comeback promo, take 1. Three, two, one.
Morrison: Who are you? What are you doing? Let me go!
Greg: Dammit Adam, it’s not that hard. You’re a Blazer now, and we want to get your promo out of the way quickly. Dave, read it back to him.
Dave: “Everyone in the league gave up on me. A lot of people said I retired–”
Morrison: I did retire!
Greg: Hush. Go on.
Dave: “Now that I’ve been given a fair shake, I plan to make the most of it. There is no Plan B.’”
Morrison: This is plan B! I’m coaching! I’m happy!
Dave: “Rip City is my home–”
Morrison: YOU ARE LITERALLY STANDING IN MY HOME.
Greg: Calm down. Recite it. You can have a few practice runs if you want.
EPILOGUE: The Oregonian Headlines, August 17, 2017
Trail Blazers Marketing Executives Arrested in Spokane
Trail Blazers Waive Aldridge, sign Morrison
Fans Revolt as Aldridge Signs With Mavericks
Season Ticket Price Slashed by 75%
Canzano: In Era of Stability, Underdog Morrison Provides Much-Needed Jolt
Canzano: Also, Paul Allen Should Sell the Blazers
These documents remind us that dependence on any single narrative can lead to disaster. Should the Portland Trail Blazers ever again be so lucky as to win a championship, they’ll need marketing men who know when a story has run out of credibility. That, or a lot of 2014-Greg-Oden-esque feel good stories. With the LeBron-Irving-Aldridge Mavericks ruling the NBA, though, that doesn’t sound like a pressing issue.