The first alert popped up just after lunchtime Sunday.
“Watch Victor Wembanyama Live,” it proclaimed.
Another notification came an hour later: “2nd Half Underway in France.”
Then came one more.
“Victor Wembanyama Delivers Again,” it said, adding that he finished with 30 points, nine rebounds and five blocks.
Yes, the very bunch with the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid, Luka Doncic and LeBron James, Steph Curry and Ja Morant in its stable of superstars was hocking Wembanyama like a roasted turkey on Thanksgiving. Even though it’s a harbinger of how amazing Wembanyama is ― he's so good, if Oklahoma City lands him, you might actually see Sam Presti do cartwheels down Reno Avenue ― it’s also a sign of hypocrisy from the NBA.
A little over a month ago, NBA commissioner Adam Silver held a question-and-answer session with Phoenix Suns employees. It was done in the aftermath of workplace misconduct by majority owner Robert Sarver, but during the session, an employee asked about tanking.
Silver has long railed against teams playing poorly to increase their chances of drafting highly, and in the Suns’ meeting, he called it a serious issue that had sparked hundreds of meetings.
“We put teams on notice,” he said at the time. “We’re going to be paying particular attention to the issue this year.”
Silver never mentioned Wembanyama by name, but everyone knows he’s the reason for such talk. He’s so good that current NBA superstars have talked about how special he is. LeBron even said Wembanyama wasn’t a unicorn but rather an alien.
“No one has ever seen anyone as tall as he is but as fluid and as graceful as he is out on the floor,” LeBron told reporters earlier this year.
Wembanyama stands 7-foot-3 but dribbles, passes and shoots like a point guard. Watch him play for even a few minutes, and it’s easy to see why teams are willing to go to extremes to try and get the No. 1 draft pick and the chance to pick Wembanyama next summer. One abysmal season for a chance at a generational talent? Seems like a reasonable trade for lots of franchises.
Teams are motivated to go that route because getting All-Star-level talent via free agency is not a viable option for more than two-thirds of the league. Miami, Brooklyn, Los Angeles and the like can lure those types of players, but Oklahoma City, Memphis, Utah and the rest of the league must draft them. That second group is willing (and you could even go so far as to say forced) to tank because of the system set up by the NBA.
Tanking is happening, then, because of a system signed off on by Silver.
But still, he argues against it. Says teams absolutely, positively shouldn’t do it. He even told those Suns employees the league considered relegation as a tanking deterrent.
If you’re a big soccer fan, you know about relegation. If you’re not, it would essentially mean demoting the NBA’s worst team or two to the G League while promoting the G League’s best team or two to the NBA.
Of course, almost as quickly as Silver mentioned relegation, he admitted it wouldn’t ever happen.
“It would so disrupt our business model,” he said. “And even if you took two teams up from the G League, they wouldn’t be equipped to compete in the NBA.”
Still, Silver seemed to put tanking teams on alert.
“It’s something we have to watch for,” he said.
But it’s hard to take Silver that way after what his league did a week or so later: the NBA announced it would live stream every one of Wembanyama’s games in France this year for free on its app.
Each time the Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92 play, anyone anywhere can see the game on the NBA app. Regular season. Playoffs. The NBA will broadcast them all.
Now, the NBA isn’t charging people to see Wembanyama and the Metropolitans, but there’s no doubt the league is monetizing him. At the very least, advertisers would want their brands linked with him and those games. No doubt it costs a pretty penny for them to buy ads, and the NBA pockets all of it.
And streaming Wembanyama’s games is only going to increase the hype before next year’s draft. More interest means more media, more fans, more impressions, more views which ultimately means more money for the NBA.
So, while the NBA and Silver are already monetizing a teenager who isn’t even in the league yet, The Commish is trying to tell teams what to do in regards to said teenager. How to act. How to play. How to manage their business.
What’s more, Silver and the NBA want to tell teams they shouldn’t tank, even though they might not have another shot at a player like this for a long, long time, at the same time the league dangles the carrot of Wembanyama for all to see?
It’s hypocrisy at its best.
I don't know if the whole thing is the height of hypocrisy, but I’m fairly certain someone as tall as Victor Wembanyama can see that it’s pretty close.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok, and support her work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Victor Wembanyama promotion shows how NBA is hypocritical in tank talk