The American television sports network, also known as the Walt Disney company, acquired the rights to the NBA franchise in the early 1990s. This made ESPN the go-to source for all things basketball. However, as the years went on, many people realized that there was more than one thing that ESPN showed on its channel.
One highlight that stood out was when the network decided to compare the greatness of three former NBA players named Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and John Stockton. Naturally, many wondered what the initials A.T.S. stood for and whether or not it had something to do with the ratings that ESPN’s highlights were getting. After all, if you’re not sure what a program is about, it probably means that you’re not alone in watching it and that it’s not very popular.
The first person to question this was none other than Michael J. Jordan. During a 2015 interview, the former Chicago Bulls great confessed that he indeed regretted being in the ‘70s when he could have enjoyed seeing more basketball highlights on television. As a result, he founded a nonprofit organization called The Michael J. Jordan Foundation, whose mission is to increase awareness and appreciation for the sport of basketball. As the foundation’s website explains, ATS refers to “Adaptive Throws” which are “basically passes that allow the offense to stay close to the action while maintaining their flow and continuity.”
The story behind the name ATS is straightforward. Jordan explained that his foundation is “a reflection of me. I’m constantly adapting and changing. That’s what the sport is all about,” he said. “It’s a testament to my never-ending quest to learn and grow as a person and a player. This is just one step in that process.”
So what does SU stand for? Similar to ATS, the initials SU stand for “Same as ATS.” This was revealed in an article that appeared in Sports Illustrated shortly after the foundation had celebrated its first anniversary. The article quoted an unnamed source who explained that the three initials were used because “they meant the same thing. They stood for ‘Same as ATS,’” the source said. “They didn’t want to create a stigma. ‘SU’ is not a negative connotation.”
While there’s nothing quite like having a former NBA player launch a foundation in your name, it’s fair to say that most people probably don’t share Jordan’s fascination with the sport. According to an ESPN rating, less than 5% of their television audience cares about in-game action and the majority of the audience focuses on analysis and highlights. This may explain why Jordan and his colleagues decided to found the foundation.
On the surface, it’s not hard to understand why Jordan and his colleagues would want to increase the popularity of basketball. After all, the sport is quite popular and, as we’ve learned from history, a great way to increase support is by forming a charity to represent your fandom. For example, during the 2017-18 season, fans of the Tampa Bay Lightning raised over $250,000 for the Be Good Beaver community through their charitable arm, the Be Good Bucs Charity Shop. Furthermore, the shop offers a portion of the money it collects to local animal shelters and other charities.
However, while we can understand the reasons behind Jordan’s foundation and the Be Good Bucs Charity Shop, it’s not that easy to understand why the people behind Full Sail Brewing Company decided that it was a good idea to name their flagship IPA, the “Stockton Strong.” According to the brewery’s site, the name comes from “the legendary John Stockton, one of the great innovators in the history of basketball.”
As the brewery’s branding campaign proclaims, “Basketball is full of unexpected twists and turns,” and the name Stockton Strong evokes all the delightful surprises that can come with a game of basketball.
How Does NBA History Impact The Popularity Of Basketball?
It’s fair to say that fans of Michael J. Jordan’s basketball teams were often treated to exciting surprises, as the Atlanta-based ESPN analyst likes to call them. In almost every game that Jordan played in, something new and exciting happened. That’s what makes the sport so appealing, especially for those who love history and are curious about how certain outcomes became possible.
One example would be Jordan’s Bulls, who had the most active social media accounts of any NBA team during the 2012-13 season. While the team didn’t officially have a Twitter account until it was 15 years old, Jordan’s acumen for using social media to engage with fans led to the creation of several unofficial accounts. Three of these were @chicagobulls, @bullsnation, and @bulls20th. As the team’s first tweet on September 25, 2012, shows, the @chicagobulls account had this to say: “We’re honored to have you follow us. Now, let’s have some fun. #Bulls20th” The team officially joined Twitter in mid-October 2012.
This kind of surprise is exactly what attracted Henry Samueli, the founder of The Michael J. Jordan Foundation, to the sport. During an interview on the Name That Tune podcast, Samueli discussed how the history of basketball had a hand in shaping his love for the sport.
“I was a kid who grew up in the ‘70s during the height of the classic Lakers-Celtics rivalry,” he said. “I saw so much of that on TV, and I was intrigued by the complexity of the game. It was a real revelation to me how much there was to know about the game.”
This is one of the reasons why, as a teenager, Samueli became a huge fan of the Harlem Globetrotters, an organization whose members are known for their entertaining antics on and off the court. The team’s founder, Abe Saperstein, would bring players and their families over for dinner after a game, and those games were a great deal of fun for Samueli. He continued:
“So when I got into basketball in college, it was a way to connect with my favorite team and with the personalities of the time,” he said. “And then, when I got into the NBA, it was even more exciting because of my personal connection to the sport.
In the same interview, Samueli expressed his disappointment that the majority of people didn’t share his passion for the sport. “I really felt, especially when I had the opportunity to work for ESPN, that there was this whole other audience that was really into the game and understood what I was talking about when I would analyze a play,” he said. “But there are just as many people who don’t seem to get it.”
Samueli is correct. According to the most recent Nielsen numbers, only 5% of American television viewers identify themselves as true basketball fans. Furthermore, fewer and fewer people are getting into the sport, which may explain why the NBA is looking for ways to attract more viewers. One method is by promoting individual players and their ability to entertain. The other is by rekindling memories of the sport’s storied past.
What Is The Appeal Of The Classic Lakers-Celtics Rivalry?
In addition to offering a never-ending stream of surprises, Jordan’s teams were often pitted against some of the greatest players of all time. While the rivalry itself was great, it was even better when played out on the court. As the greatest player of the modern era himself, Jordan is well positioned to appreciate the classic Lakers-Celtics rivalry. In fact, his teams had the opportunity to play against the best teams in NBA history and he got to see firsthand how the sport was played in its purest form.
Specifically, Jordan was a part of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls team that beat the famous 1996-97 Dream Team in the playoffs. This was one of the most iconic playoff matches in NBA history, and it’s not hard to see why. Not only did the Bulls have one of the best teams of the decade, but they also got the chance to play against one of the greatest (and most popular) teams in NBA history. Naturally, this created a lot of buzz, and the fact that Jordan’s teams were historically great didn’t hurt matters either.
The combination of these factors made for one of the most exciting times to be a basketball fan. If you ever wondered what made the ‘70s and ‘80s so great, look no further. Thanks to things like the classic Lakers-Celtics matchup and other iconic rivalries like North Carolina vs. Duke, which still happens today even though the basketball seasons have changed, you’ll have your answer.