The Los Angeles Lakers jersey is synonymous with Kobe Bryant.
If someone says â€œLakers,â€ you can bet that within a few seconds they will also say â€œKobe,â€ and the sight of his face with the â€˜Lâ€™-word stitched a few inches below is as dyed-in-the-wool as coffee and crÃ¨me or Easter and eggs.
So it took me by surprise when I turned on a game a few weeks ago and read the word â€œLosâ€ on his jersey.
I guessed the team wanted to put â€œLos Angelesâ€ on their jerseys for a change, but why would they do that?
Another shot of him a few seconds later revealed the full moniker, â€œLos Lakers.â€ Now I was truly confused. Where was â€œAngeles?â€ More importantly, why were they going through all this trouble?
My Kobe-obsessed friend explained to me that it was part of Noche Latina, a promotion whereby the National Basketball Association (NBA) honors its Hispanic fans.
While not exactly a local story, I couldnâ€™t help but to be intrigued by the idea of Noche Latina, especially in a city as diverse as Fresno.
Robert Duyos / McClatchy Tribune
On the surface, it seems like a nice nod to the leagueâ€™s growing Hispanic fan base. Then again, is the Hispanic community really supposed to be honored by a bunch of new jerseys they can buy online for 80 bucks a pop?
Since Iâ€™m just a regular old white guy, I decided to call up my good friend Will Oâ€™Fray, who is Puerto Rican.
â€œWill, what do you think of Noche Latina?â€
Will responded, â€œItâ€™s not a bad idea, but itâ€™s like, thatâ€™s all youâ€™re going to do? Just put â€˜Losâ€™ in front of your name? Honestly, it sounds like a joke to me.â€
We agreed it was a bad marketing scheme. Just imagine the meeting where the leagueâ€™s big wigs came up with the idea:
â€œHow can we get Hispanic people to buy more NBA stuff?â€
â€œIâ€™ve got it! We can put the Spanish word for â€˜theâ€™ in front of the team names. Weâ€™ll sell a truck full of â€˜em!â€
The jerseys donâ€™t normally read â€œThe Lakersâ€ or â€œThe Heatâ€, why couldnâ€™t they just translate the team names?
I then asked my friend Robbie Bellamy, who is black, about it. He said, â€œWhatâ€™s next, ebonic jerseys? â€˜Da Heat?â€™ â€˜The Lakaz?â€™â€
Next I called up Pritesh Whabi, of Gujarati origin. He liked the idea better: â€œWould I buy a Gujarati NBA jersey? Hell yea! As long as it had something catchy on it.â€
Obviously these people donâ€™t speak for their entire races, so I checked a few articles about Noche Latina to get a broader perspective. As I expected, the comments section of many articles exploded into heated arguments over racism and illegal immigration and other various touchy subjects.
The NBA constantly changes jersey styles so they can sell more replicas. The Atlanta Hawks even had a lime green jersey a few years back. And if people want to buy them, thatâ€™s fine.
But when the jerseys begin to pander to certain ethnic or political groups, the league is threatening the quality of sports, which is their bonding aspect.
Perfect strangers can bond easily over sports. If one person hates the Lakers or the Heat and the other loves them, itâ€™s not a big deal. But if two strangers disagree about race or politics, it usually is a big deal.
The NBA should do whatever it takes to attract basketball fans, not basketball fans who come from certain backgrounds on certain night.