SLAM PH Movie Week: How to run a team like Jackie Moon

Basketball has played a huge role in cinema. It can be as simple as the backdrop in a budding relationship, an escape to a better life, away from the inner city, or the only way to save the world from alien invasion. Basketball in cinema is riveting, inspirational and fantastic.

So, welcome to the SLAM PH Movie Week! The team breaks down their favorite basketball movie (or movie with any semblance of basketball).

What would you buy if you won in the lottery? A house? A car? A business? I’m sure all of us have different priorities in case we stumble upon big, big bucks. Maybe something simple, or something luxurious, or something that we’ve dreamed about for a long time.

The movie Semi-Pro showed exactly how money can buy a lifelong dream. In this case, a basketball team.

Jackie Moon (Will Ferrell) didn’t exactly win in millions via lotto. However, he hit jackpot with his song ‘Love Me Sexy’, a masterpiece which defined the 1970s with its sultry yet funky beats and seductive lyrics. Think about Psy’s Gangnam Style. That’s how huge of a hit his song was, at least in the story.

He used the money he earned to fulfill his dream of having his own basketball team. He purchased the Flint Tropics from the ABA and became its owner, promoter, coach and starting power forward. He was even his team’s entertainer prior to the game. (WARNING: EXPLICIT LYRICS)

But as the ABA struggled, the commissioner decided to push for a merger with the NBA. However, only the top four ABA teams would be allowed to move on to the NBA, while the rest of the league would fold. And with his team placed at the bottom of the standings, Moon was pressed to find ways for his Tropics to rise to the top.

To cut the story short (SPOILER ALERT!): The Tropics finished fourth, but was denied of a chance to join the NBA. The small market potential in Flint, Michigan was seen by the NBA as a big problem for the Tropics to grow financially.

The movie was set in 1976 during the NBA and ABA merger. In the process, the Spurs, Nets, Nuggets and Pacers all joined the then-28-year league. The rest of the ABA folded. However, most of the plot was fiction. In reality, Jackie Moon, Love Me Sexy and the Flint Tropics didn’t exist at that time.

But even if it was fictional, the NBA can learn a lot of things from Jackie Moon and his Flint Tropics.

The league is for the fans.

In the movie, it was evident that Moon understood professional basketball was more than just a game, it’s a show.

Fans watched the Tropics’ game to be entertained. So, Moon pulled off all sorts of gimmicks to keep the fans interested. As in everything: from full production pre-game introductions, to $10K Moon Shot (more on that later), to free corndogs day.

Perhaps, the most outrageous stunt that Moon did was a hell-in-a-cell match against Dewie the Killer Bear, all for the hope that he can attract a huge number of fans.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to see something like this in the NBA? The productions don’t have to be dangerous, life-and-death situations to be entertaining.

What if Portland puts Lonzo and Dame DOLLA on a pre-game rap battle as an undercard to the Blazers-Lakers game? What if the tag team of Mo Bamba and Nikola Vucevic fight in a Royal Rumble match against the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse? What if Robin Lopez goes on a wrestling tour to finally settle his beef against all 30 of NBA’s mascots?

These sideshows may sound outrageous. But if these stunts can make the fans happy, then I say go for it.

Every player in the team is important

‘Everybody Loves Everybody!’ That’s Jackie Moon’s one and only rule on the team, and he abided by it as if his locker room wall was The Constitution. He always looked after his players, and took care of them until the very end of the ABA.

Moon was loyal to his teammates, but that didn’t always mean he kept his players until the Tropics disbanded. He made his ultimate sacrifice when he traded away Coffee Black (Andre Benjamin) to the NBA-bound San Antonio Spurs just so the latter can pursue his NBA dream. He didn’t deal away his star for his own team’s gain, but for the welfare of his player.

Moon showed love to his players, that’s why they loved him back tenfold. No wonder Coffee Black dropped his Spurs jacket, ran into the locker room and changed to his Tropics jersey right after Moon was knocked out due to a hard foul.

It’s hard for executives to show concern, much more loyalty, to its players in the NBA today. Competence is always asked from franchises, and GMs and owners are always ready to burn bridges for better gain.

Often, having a cold heart is needed to achieve success as an NBA exec. Danny Ainge is never afraid to make bold moves (Isaiah Thomas for Kyrie Irving). The Boston Celtics quickly became a contender in the post-Big Three era. Masai Ujiri traded away Toronto’s most loyal and beloved star for what could be a one-year superstar rental. His team can possibly end the long wait to reach the finals.

The deals were great, but it they left a bad taste in the mouth for the players who were either blindsided or left hanging.

Look the other way, and you can see that loyalty pays off, too. The Spurs took care of its players who emulated the team’s selfless approach to the game. The Lakers remained loyal to Kobe through thick and thin. The Mavs rested its fate to Dirk Nowitzki ever since the German joined the league. Golden State built through the draft and stuck with it. These teams were loyal to some of its players when necessary. As a result, these teams combined for 14 of the last 20 NBA titles.

Never be afraid to go beyond what’s conventional

If Moon was real, then we would be referring to Ainge’s trades as the ‘Jackie Moon deals’. That guy pulled of the craziest executive decision of all time: he traded Ed Monix (Woody Harrelson) for the Tropics’ washing machine.

Monix was a former bench player for the championship era Boston Celtics before he played in the ABA. Using his experience with a legendary team, he changed the culture within the Tropics locker room. He became the offensive and defensive coordinator for the team. With him, the Tropics stringed together a ton of wins to snatch the fourth place. Yeah, Moon really acquired his own version of Rasheed Wallace for something that cleaned their jerseys.

NBA teams can’t trade appliances for players, but they can for cash considerations. The most notable player-for-cash trade was Golden State’s move to acquire Jordan Bell in 2017. Golden State managed to get light years ahead of the other teams because of transactions like this one. Andre Iguodala’s transfer to the Warriors, Kevin Durant’s paycut, Demarcus Cousins’s mid-level contract. The Warriors might have built its dynasty through draft, but the team extended and expanded it through smart deals over the years.

It’s not like Golden State was the first team to push the boundaries with regards to talent acquisition. Boston recruited Garnett, Pierce and Allen. Heat did it with James, Wade and Bosh. Even Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were pried by the Lakers away from their original teams. These moves might seem normal today, but these were game-changers at the time they were executed.

And what’s common between those three teams? Championships. These teams were willing to do something that was not done before to reach the top of the league.

Always keep the promise you gave to the fans

I already said it and I’m saying it again: the league is for the fans. Championships aren’t the only measure of success for a team. To an extent, having a loyal fanbase can be considered as a victory for the team. As such, a team should always stay true to its fans if it wants to create a formidable homecourt.

Remember that $10K Moon Shot? At the beginning of the movie, a fan drained the shot from the other free throw line and won the $10K pot money. The problem? Jackie Moon didn’t have the cash to award to the lucky fan. He basically tried to run away from the responsibility of paying the fan his prize. But towards the end of the movie, Moon sent to that fan a check worth $2300, and a letter from him promising that he would pay the rest after the merger.

In a way, that scene symbolized the teams’ responsibility to keep every word said to the fans. You said this player will stay? Do everything you can to keep him. Don’t trade him away all of a sudden. You said changes will be made for the better? Do everything you can to make that happen. Don’t fire coaches and GMs left and right only to create a revolving door of mediocre staff. You said trading away your superstar for Buddy Hield will turn out to be a good move? The win-loss column better show that.

The bottom line is, don’t just go talking about things if you don’t intend to keep it. Trust is important to build a strong relationship, even for a team and its fans. If NBA execs can stay loyal and true to its city, then the city will stay loyal and true to the team.

Should the NBA decide to conduct seminars for executives, I wish they would include Semi-Pro on one of the modules. The movie is more than just a comedy about basketball, it’s a run through the important aspects of running a team in the present. If these executives want to build basketball-crazy cities like Semi-Pro’s Flint, Michigan, then they better watch Jackie Moon closely.

I just hope the GMs and owners don’t decide to institute bear fights for halftime entertainment.

Photo courtesy of Indie Wire

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