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American Express returns as NBA sponsor, a sign of the league’s surging popularity

Dec 20, 2010, 9:19 AM EST

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There was a time when American Express commercials were as much a part of NBA telecasts as Marv Albert. But five years ago, after the Jordan era and the Laker three-peat were history, the company walked away.

Monday they will announce they are back in — American Express is returning as a league sponsor, the New York Times reported.

Mark Tatum, the executive vice president for global marketing partnerships at the N.B.A, said, “The resurgence of the Knicks, the Heat, the Spurs, the Lakers, the Celtics: there are very exciting story lines and people want to be associated with the N.B.A. right now.”

This is good news on one level — we once again may get to see the likes of  Phil Jackson buying lottery scratchers or Don Nelson buying German dictionaries (to communicate with Dirk Nowitizki) with their Amex cards. It’s a sign — along with boosts in television rating — that the league is having resurgence.

It also makes you think that for all the posturing going on right now about a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, a lockout that costs the league even one game would be a bigger setback than even the hardline owners and players realize. That a lockout would come at a time of the highest levels of popularity for the league since the Jordan era. That a lockout would have millionaires and billionaires battling over to split up the public’s money during the worst recession in generations. That the setback would be more than just the usual five years (how long on average it takes a sport to recover television ratings and game attendance after a lockout).

Amex returning reminds us that a lockout would be just plain stupid.

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