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LeBron James and Dwight Howard are two huge figures in the game from small media markets.
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Small-market players can still grab big-time deals

By Vince Thomas, NBA.com
Posted Aug 18 2009 5:13PM

By now you've seen the new Nike commercial. Not the other one, but THAT one -- the "Don't Criticize (Hyperize)" video. It's an old-skool, rap-video spoof so surreal that a jheri-curled jitterbug name Fog Raw struts up to a competitor on the basketball court to give him a pound, only for an ice cream cone to miraculously appear in his hand -- a hand with six fingers. It's a video/commercial where a lanky kid named Velvet Hoop, rocking a "so-80s" Africa-medallion, ends his four-bar verse with a Curtis Blowesque "Uh-to-the-hoop-y'all! Uh'come'on!"

It was like an 80s version of Will Ferrell's Semi-Pro, just more street and funnier. Ice-O has a gumby, flanked by some psuedo-"Addicted To Love" girls. Chief-Blocka has a Mohawk and brass-knuckles. We even get a cameo from DJ Quik (Compton'd out), who produced the track, drenched in the West Coast funk he perfected.

When I saw the commercial for the first time, I remember rewinding it back a couple times. I ran it back the first time to squeeze a couple more chuckles out of it. But during that second viewing, once I got past all the sonic and aesthetic overloads (like Ice-O tattooing an older woman the size of John Goodman), something dawned on me..."Wait a second, who are these dudes?" Other than Kevin Durant -- who was the least made up in his Velvet Hoop character -- I couldn't make out the other three stars. I guess they weren't that recognizable.

You could put Kobe in a Sherman Klump fat-suit and I could probably I.D. him off of something barely noticeable, like his walk. LeBron James could go "Felicity Huffman in Transamerica" on me and I'd be able to scope him out. But the Hyperizers weren't from that super-duperstar set.

So, I looked harder. "Is that my man, Iggy?" Yep. That's Andre Iguodala playing Chief Blocka. "Oh no! That's Shard, rocking the gumby?!" Yep. That's Rashard Lewis as Ice-O. Fog Raw was stumping me, though. "Who is that? Wait a second...Haaaaaa. That's Mo Williams!" Mo Williams found his way into a Nike commercial that runs multiple times an hour on ESPN, everyday? Yessir.

So much for all that "small market" rhetoric. Unlike Iguodala (who plays in Philadelphia, the country's sixth largest city and fifth largest metro area), his three co-stars don't ball in a Top 10 media market or Top 20 metro area. Durant plays in freaking Oklahoma City. Lewis balls for the Orlando Magic. And Williams runs with the Cavs in Cleveland. Yet, every little kid on the playgrounds will think of them while they sing "We be hyperizing/while y'all be criticizing."

Mo's inclusion in the commercial is extremely relevant, because he plays with the ultimate star in LeBron and there's been a painfully annoying amount of speculation concerning whether LeBron will bolt from Cleveland for New York. Why would he leave his hometown state and a contending team for a shambled franchise like the Knicks or homeless Nets? Get this, you'll laugh -- he's supposed to be pining for Gotham because that's the only place he'll become the "global icon" he aspires to be.

I'm from the great state of New York and that even makes me throw up in my mouth. If that isn't the most archaic notion on the planet, I don't know what is. This isn't 1976 or 1984 or even 1992 -- this is a globalized, connected world we live in now. Last time I checked, Peyton Manning played in Indianapolis, yet his $13 million earned in endorsements in 2009, dwarfed the $7 million his little-brother Eli raked in. Eli plays in NYC. Tiger Woods has taken over the world from Orlando.

Last year, the venerable Esquire celebrated its 75th anniversary with its October issue. In it, Lisa Taddeo wrote a piece on LeBron ("The rise of the superathlete") that focused on LeBron's imperial quest for ubiquity. Esquire, like most of our favorite magazines, is based in New York. Hence, I wasn't much surprised at this excerpt: "A move from Cleveland won't guarantee a championship, or five. But merely existing in the biggest media spotlight in the world will help the brand, will get LeBron nearer to owning the court of consumer veneration."

LeBron earned 28 friggin million dollars from endorsements in 2008 -- all from little 'ol Cleveland -- and that figure is on the rise no matter where the young man plays. Still, this "he needs to be in New York" garbage persists. Us media folk act like there's no such thing as video conferencing, private jets and everything else that makes this a small world for movers and shakers.

A cynic would say that Williams was only invited to appear in the commercial because Nike is trying to curry favor from LeBron, whose deal with the sneaker-behemoth ends after the season. I say, however, it's just one more of the many indicators that if you play well, for a successful team, you can get your face out there -- regardless of the market size.

Who do you think has a higher profile: Tony Parker or Devin Harris? You think Chris Duhon is gonna get more All-Star votes than Mo', next season? Kevin Garnett played in Minneapolis for most of his career, but he starred in many Nike commercials and appeared on the cover of GQ. Ladainian Tomlinson plays for the Chargers, not the Jets.

The small-market argument used to hold weight before ESPN and YouTube and Twitter and advancements in fundamental things like infrastructure. Back in the very early 90s, I was reading a copy of Street & Smith's pro basketball preview when I was hipped to the small-market notion for the first time. A write-up on the Indiana Pacers basically said that, if Reggie Miller played in a big market like New York, Boston or Chicago (I remember those specific cities), he'd be a huge star. That was probably true back then. Sports Q-ratings were much, much more geographic decades ago. In fact, it took big moments against the Knicks to truly catapult Reggie into the American conscience.

These days, though, you can circumvent all that. Charlie Villanueva has been on a self-marketing, Twitter-tear that has given him -- a young, not-yet All-Star who's spent his entire career in Milwaukee -- a surging national profile.

If Chris Bosh and the Raptors can advance in the playoffs, when the nation's attention is fixed on only a handful of teams and players, he could possibly "get his KG on."

Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard don't play in NYC or L.A., yet they'll be in 2010's "Just Wright" -- a film, starring Queen Latifah, about a physical therapist that falls in love with an injured, pro-ball player.

Everywhere you look, there are indicators, in plain sight, that prove the NYC-L.A.-Chicago monopoly no longer exists. Yes, they are the country's three marquee markets, world-class cities that are, rightfully, the envy of much of the world; but as long the Cavs keep winning, Mo' can keep shining. And Durant? Just wait until those 25-30 points start turning up in the playoffs. We'll have an icon on our hands. We all need to catch up. (Even I'm writing this column for a website owned by a company (Turner Broadcast Systems, owner of CNN, TNT, TBS, etc.) based in Atlanta, not Los Angeles.)

All the small-market pro ballers need to adhere to this one mantra: Keep hyperizing.

Vincent Thomas writes "The Commish" column for SLAM Magazine and is a contributing commentator for ESPN. His "From The Floor" column appears weekly on NBA.com. Vince invites you to email him at vincethomas79@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/VinceCAThomas.

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