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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Opportunities missed as players try to market themselves

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Here signing autographs at a WNBA game, Kevin Durant will star in Washington this weekend. (Getty Images)  
Here signing autographs at a WNBA game, Kevin Durant will star in Washington this weekend. (Getty Images)  

So the Drew League plays the Goodman League in Washington, D.C., this weekend. Goodman regular Kevin Durant, the undisputed MVP of the lockout, will be there, along with 2010 No. 1 pick John Wall and several other locked-out NBA stars.

Kobe Bryant, it turns out, will not play. He did, however, show up at the Drew League in Los Angeles on Tuesday for a cameo appearance in which he scored 45 points. Or 43 points, depending on who you ask. Ah, what's a couple of points among friends?

This clash of East Coast vs. West Coast on Saturday at Trinity University -- a bigger, easier-on-the-knees venue than the famed asphalt of Barry Farms -- is a great idea. It will feature multiple NBA stars on the same court for perhaps the last time for the foreseeable future. Except there's something missing.

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Like, you know, marketing. Promotion. Organization. A TV camera. Invitations from the players' supposedly world-class marketing people and business managers for media to cover the event and, you know, interview the players.

Basically, absent is anything resembling a hint that NBA players don't need the, um, NBA to promote and market themselves and connect with fans in a grassroots setting. These games represent a chance for hundreds -- and potentially thousands -- of fans to glimpse these stars up close without mortgaging their futures for the outrageous prices they'd have to pay to see them in an actual NBA arena. And yet the best the players can do to alert the public as to when and where they'll be playing is a few tweets here and there.

Which is a shame, because this is yet another missed opportunity for the players during this lockout, which is expected to pass the two-month mark without so much as a second bargaining session among owners and high-level league executives. Despite the desire of union officials to arrange a bargaining session next week in New York, a person connected to the process told CBSSports.com on Friday that such a meeting is unlikely. That means the calendar will most likely flip to September before the two sides reconvene for only the second time since the lockout was imposed on July 1.

While Rome burns ...

Earlier this week, we had Bay Frazier, Carmelo Anthony's business manager, excitedly tweeting that the Melo All-Stars would be facing the Rucker Park All-Stars this week.

"Everybody come out [Friday] @6pm to St. Frances for the @carmeloanthony allstars vs. the NY Rucker Park allstars," Frazier tweeted to his 2,836 followers.

Frazier went on to report that they're "also gonna do it big on August 28th," when the Melo All-Stars will face the Goodman All-Stars in Baltimore.

"Bmore vs DC," Frazier wrote. "Gonna be some big names @ that game."

Oh, in case you're a) following Bay Frazier, b) want to attend, and c) don't know where it is, this ingenious, grassroots marketing plan has you covered. Frazier reported that the park is on East Eager Street in East Baltimore.

"Cant miss it across Balto. City Jail lol," Frazier wrote.

So there you go.

If you don't think NBA executives seated either in their Fifth Avenue office tower or poolside on a lounge chair somewhere aren't laughing hysterically at this supposed attempt at supplanting their league, think again. If this sorry excuse for a plan wasn't so sad, it'd be hilarious.

With all the brilliant marketing minds at the shoe companies and in the players' entourages, there doesn't seem to be a soul contemplating an organized approach for these pro-am events, exhibitions and rec-league games. Are Nike, Adidas and Reebok too afraid to cross the NBA? Or is this simply evidence that the players should stick to what they're good at -- basketball -- and leave the business to the professionals?

The only person I've been able to find who is thinking big-picture is Matt Rosner, the director of basketball for the Street Basketball Association. As previously reported, Rosner has been working for three months on a plan to integrate locked-out NBA stars into a 30- to 45-game schedule this fall. Instead of players randomly showing up at parks across the country, there would be rosters and a schedule, not to mention marketing, promotions and community events. Players would have streetball names and the opportunity to market themselves in ways that the button-down, mainstream world of the NBA doesn't necessarily allow or embrace.

If Rosner -- or someone like him -- succeeded, it would be the first time the players' approach to marketing themselves and connecting with fans during the lockout would have a defined approach and some semblance of organization. Until now, all we've had are hints, rumors and clues that "big names" will be joining Deron Williams in Turkey (except they haven't) or signing million-dollar-a-month deals in China (except they won't). Now, Anthony's business manager tells us "some surprises" will be showing up at the Melo League in Baltimore on Aug. 28 (except nobody can tell us who they'll be.)

In fairness, Rosner himself promised in a recent press release that "current professional basketball players" will take part in a streetball All-Star game in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 11 -- an event honoring the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Rosner and his promotional company, the SBA Sports Management and Entertainment Group, did not identify any of the NBA players who will be participating. Until they're identified, this can be viewed as little more than another tease.

But at least someone's thinking. At least there's a plan to have the players participate in an event that has meaning beyond basketball. Participants are scheduled to visit local schools to speak with children about the importance of education, and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to a 9/11 nonprofit organization. SBA says the game will kick off a series of high-end exhibition games throughout the United States, Europe and South America. Basketball Without Borders, if you will. And without the business suits from NBA headquarters.

Is it perfect? No. Can NBA stars make a living playing in streetball games and rec leagues for the rest of eternity? Of course not. But just as the NBA needs the players to generate billions in revenues, the players also need the NBA. This is a fact that has become apparent way too easily -- and way too early in the lockout -- for the players to realize their goal of showing the owners that they've got this.

Until someone takes control, this barnstorming rec-league tour is going to be little more than idle noise in this otherwise silent summer of the lockout. In the meantime, don't forget to check your Twitter feed for all the details -- or at least some of them -- on the next big event.


Before joining CBSSports.com, Ken Berger covered the NBA for Newsday. The Long Island, N.Y., native has also worked for the Associated Press and can be seen on SportsNet New York. Catch Ken every Saturday, when he hosts Eye on Basketball from 6-8 p.m. ET on cbssportsradio.com
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