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The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, possibly one of the best and biggest rivalries in the history of sports, are back again for their 12th time facing each other in the NBA finals. I could write a whole blog post about the history and significance of this historical and compelling match up, but why bother when there are books, articles and even a whole Wikipedia entry devoted to this rivalry? While the days of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are over, this classic match up never seems to fail.

The 2010 finals has epic written all over it: best rivalry in the history of sports, arguably the two greatest franchises in NBA history and a series featuring some of the best players in the league. If that doesn’t do it for you, there is the fact that it is the second time in three years that the two teams have faced each other in the finals,  Kobe and the Lakers are out for blood after losing to the Celtics in the 2008 finals, this Celtics team could prove to be one of the greatest in Celtics’ history (a very, very tough “club” to get into), Kobe could get his 5th championship (making that one short of Michael Jordan) and the fact that it could be Coach Phil Jackson’s last  game and 11th title (a record he already holds).

Could it get much better for David Stern?

The Lakers-Celtics finals is a gold mine for the NBA. Sure, a Phoenix Suns-Orlando Magic match up would be interesting to any basketball fan, or even a LA-Orlando series would be enticing. Yet the hype surrounding the Lakers and the Celtics pulls in even those who are not interested in the NBA, but who are interested in seeing history play out before their eyes and watching superstars battle it out on the court. Yeah, an Amare StoudemireDwight Howard match up would have been cool, but that has nothing on a Kobe Bryant-Paul Pierce & Pau Gasol-Keven Garnett matchup.

So what does this mean from the NBA’s perspective?

  • Sold out tickets-and expensive tickets.
  • High ratings-Three years ago, the television ratings for the finals reached an all-time low. The NBA needs this.
  • Crazy media coverage-Just Google it, I dare you. Or turn on your T.V. Or the radio. Better yet, look at Twitter.
  • High selling merchandise-According the NBAStore.com, the LA Lakers and Boston Celitics are already number one and number three on the top selling NBA teams.

These benefits are just from a short-term perspective. The long-term effects of this historical match up are also potentially huge, with the ripple effects extending far and beyond from just this series. It has the potential to get people hyped up about NBA basketball for a long time to come.  The only thing better would be a Kobe vs. Lebron match up, but there’s still some time left for that.

The new Arizona law regarding illegal immigration is causing quite a bit of controversy these days. And that controversy is making its way into the world of professional sports. During Game 2 of the NBA western conference semifinals, the Phoenix Suns wore their “Los Suns” jerseys to voice their opposition to the law, coordinating with a written statement against it, and were supported by the NBA Players Association for their efforts. Other teams and players have also spoken out against the law, which is being heavily criticized for promoting racial profiling.  This includes the MLB Players Association (Major League Baseball Players Association), where over half the teams hold spring training in Arizona and significant amount of their players are foreign born. They issued a statement saying:

The Major League Baseball Players Association opposes this law as written. We hope that the law is repealed or modified promptly. If the current law goes into effect, the MLBPA will consider additional steps necessary to protect the rights and interests of our members.

However, not everyone in the sports world is taking a side to the issue. Laker’s head coach Phil Jackson claimed in a recent interview that he chooses for him and his team to stay out of the debate saying, “I have respect for those who oppose the new Arizona immigration law, but I am wary of putting entire sports organizations in the middle of political controversies.”

Laker’s spokesperson, John Black, said the organization will stay away from political statements. “Our focus and goal at this time is on basketball, winning games, and hopefully winning another championship, which we feel the vast majority of our fans want us to focus on.”

So is that what sports is all about? Winning games and providing entertainment for their fans? (I personally do NOT agree with this, especially from a PR perspective). Or is it about speaking up for a group of people that also represent a good portion of their fans, players and employees? Is taking a stance being socially responsible or crossing the line?

This is where public relations comes into play and faces questions like these. Do you stand up and defend a portion of your community, like the Hispanic and Latino population? Or do you choose not to become politically involved, claiming neutrality? Either way, the decision will alienate a portion of their audience and brings up some tough PR decisions.

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