This year, like it has for the last few seasons, the National Basketball Association will be holding a series of “Noches Latinas” to commemorate the Latino/Hispanic community. This year, they’re calling it “Noches ene-be-a”, after the Spanish pronunciation of NBA, but the sentiment is the same. And just like in previous seasons, the NBA is screwing it up. Let me explain.
Six teams — the Chicago Bulls, the San Antonio Spurs, the Phoenix Suns, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Miami Heat, and the New York Knicks — are participating in it. Participating might be giving the NBA teams too much credit, though. What these teams are doing is just slapping a “Los” or an “El” in front of the team’s name. Say hi to “Los Bulls” and “El Heat”.
That’s not just lazy, it’s insulting and condescending. It’s the sporting equivalent of the guy who pretends to speak Spanish by saying something like, “Yo speako el Englisho”. When you stop and actually think about it, it’s really kind of offensive. Spanish isn’t some obscure language in the United States. Approximately 36.8 million people speak it, which comes out to about 12 percent of the population. It’s an integral part of American culture; heck, it’s America’s first language — people were speaking Spanish in the United States about 50 years before English-speaking Europeans showed up on the shores of Virginia.
The NBA’s response is invariably that their market research shows that Latino NBA fans in NBA cities refer to their teams that way, so there’s nothing wrong with it. But again, that’s just lazy, at best. The fact that Juanito de tal down on the block calls the Bulls “Los Bulls” doesn’t make it right, in and of itself. The NBA is a global athletic powerhouse, with pretensions to global cultural relevance. It should hold itself to a higher standard. Luckily for the Association, another sport is setting that standard.
Baseball is another sport that’s got a massive footprint in Latin America. And when Major League Baseball teams like the Milwaukee Brewers and the San Francisco Giants hold their Hispanic promotions, they actually go the extra mile — the Brewers become the Cerveceros, the Giants become the Gigantes, and so forth. When those teams do that, it’s a mark of respect towards the Latino communities in those sports, and it makes their outreach actually genuine, instead of looking like an afterthought.
And that’s the whole point of this exercise, isn’t it? That’s what Saskia Sorrosa, the NBA’s Vice President of Multicultural Marketing, says: “With Hispanic fans comprising 18 percent of the league’s fan base, we have a responsibility to be inclusive and deliver customized experiences that connect with our fans in meaningful ways.”
So how about actually doing that, Saskia? Let’s see Los Toros, Las Espuelas, Los Soles, Los Lagueros, El Calor, and Los Pantalones take the court. Heck, if you want, this Puerto Rican will volunteer to give all 30 NBA teams a Spanish name, so everyone can participate.
Rafael Noboa y Rivera is a freelance writer.