I was extremely saddened to learn that the Boston Celtics have struck a sponsorship deal with General Electric. Starting next season, the Celtics time honoured jerseys will now include a circular GE symbol. And so it begins. True, maybe the NBA itself is to blame for allowing this. And yes, the Celtics were not the first team to grab at the cash. That distinction hangs on the shoulders of the Philadelphia 76ers and the Sacremento Kings. But with the exception of Dr. J’s tenure with the 76ers, neither of those teams signifies much in the way of NBA history. The Celtics, on the other hand, are the team of Bill Russel, Bob Cousey, Red Auerbach, Dave Cowens and Larry Bird. They are the Montreal Candiens of basketball. For them to sully their shamrock jerseys for some cash cheapens the great history and aura of the team. Within a year or two, this will be standard procedure in the NBA. And don’t kid yourself that the sponsors will for long tolerate their logo on a tiny space or obscure part of the jersey. Before long, basketball and hockey teams could have the team’s logo supplanted by their sponsors, as is the norm in soccer. If greed leads to more greed, look for hockey and basketball uniforms to look more like the walking billboard that race car drivers wear. Yes, professional sports are a business and yes money talks, but couldn’t they just allow fans the illusion that certain things are sacred? And yes, I know athletes are paid to wear and prominently display everything from shoes to hats to wristbands, but the jersey is something else isn’t it?
Here’s what I suggest. If a company really wants to impress fans, they should pay a team to keep their jersey pure. They can serve notice of this in the arena and on billboards as such. Imagine the post-modern triumph of walking into a bus shelter and being greeted by “Brought to you by Costco: the Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, advertising free.” That’s a sponsorship I could respect!