The vultures of Zion Land

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Published: December 14, 2021

In year three, the legend of Zion Williamson in New Orleans feels more like a myth now.

Despite what his name indicates in the meaning of the Jewish faith, Zion is far off from leading New Orleans, or anyone else, into the “promised land”.

The Pelicans, clearly in distress in the absence of their No. 1 overall pick from 2019, are surrounded by looters. There are those that want Zion to become the ultimate New Orleans legend, those that want to see him leave for somewhere else, those that want to see him fail, aspiring media personalities hyper-reporting-embellishing to get noticed, and even weirder there are those that want to see New Orleans banished from the NBA in favor of Seattle or somewhere else. All of these parties are in a battle royale and it’s every person for themselves.

With a player like Zion in town, our fair city is hammered by interests far beyond its normal amount. This situation is worse than Anthony Davis. It’s bigger than Anthony Davis. And with an ever-growing culture that openly expresses disdain for small market franchises and places superstar catering above all players and above all organizations, holding a player of Zion’s pedigree will only grow to become more difficult. It will not be impossible still to build competent teams here, only more difficult to interest ready-made superstars that, through marketing and potential, that are “once-in-a-generation”.

As the Pelicans and Zion attempt to figure this all out, here’s a guide for fans navigating the media frenzy that surrounds the mysterious silence of a superstar in the smallest major market in America.

Understanding the New Orleans media market

There are no bones about it. The New Orleans media market is small by NBA standards. In the U.S., the top 50 television markets are considered major markets and New Orleans ranks at No. 50. The only NBA city that is host to a smaller market is Memphis, which ranks right under New Orleans at No. 51. Sure, the team’s individual market also includes Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Jackson, Hattiesburg-Laurel, Mobile, Pensacola, and Birmingham (ranked at No. 45!)but media from other distant small markets likely aren’t traveling out of their areas to give more coverage to the Pelicans. That typically leaves a handful of media professionals in the city who wear multiple hats covering everything from Saints, LSU, high school sports, and so on.

With a lack of success in recent years, interest in committing serious coverage has waned with the perception that the Pelicans aren’t striving towards a serious product. The arrival of Zion signified a change in that direction but due to a number of factors, that hasn’t materialized.

With a lack of NBA focus among the professional ranks, the Pelicans fanbase has a long tradition of fan-led media that started as a result of filling the void. With the expansion of social media platforms, that tradition has grown exponentially.

Fan-led media is a good and necessary thing. But now with an overload of content in a dicey time as it is for the franchise, there are some factors for fans to watch out for.

When you have a situation where the franchise star has gone dark and the organization and the player have produced little to no information regarding the situation at hand, that’s when fans become desperate for answers and when vultures swoop in.

It’s like politics

In no other time in history has sports coverage and political coverage mirrored each other so well and that’s not necessarily a great thing. But one thing sports organizations can learn from political situations is how to avoid conspiratorial narratives from running wild.

Often in politics, a disaster or major error has occurred, and perhaps a governing office is slow to act or communicate. That opens the door for the public’s imagination to run wild and fill in those missing gaps of information.

We’re seeing a similar scenario often with Zion and the Pelicans. I emphasize with Zion because his struggle appears to be physical and he could be extremely sensitive to the issue. However, it seems like the franchise itself is taking on an incredible amount of heat to protect the image of its star player, who has yet to be available on a consistent basis. Is it worth it to protect a star player who may or may not force his way out, which has been another persistent rumor surrounding the franchise?

There’s a perfect and ugly storm in New Orleans. Can a franchise in this market handle a Zion, and Anthony Davis, a Chris Paul? Can it handle an NBA team? I absolutely believe so. But can it handle elite tier players that only serve as distractions towards building a competent team?

When an organization goes silent and there is a lack of invested professional media members invested in the product, that’s when those missing gaps get filled in. They get filled in by out of area interests, frustrated fans, and people looking to build a profile, typically on the back of negativity.

Often I feel as VP, David Griffin gets blamed for things that aren’t his job. But his main job was to prevent a media circus from coming to town and that has been a major failure thus far.

What to look for and the differences in content

Pels fans want answers. But before you digest Pelicans content, consider the content and who’s producing it. Figure out their angle is and what they specialize in. There are major differences in reporting, analysis, commentary, blogging, and column writing. Pieces can crossover all these elements but carefully try to decide what the objective is.

Reporters should make clear they are reporting facts and that what they say has a source attached to it. Reporting is a retelling of information discovered or what happened in a situation.

Opinion writers like bloggers and columnists should give opinions based on facts. Maybe offer some analysis. Make it clear that it is an opinion as well as a sound argument. Don’t sell it as a report.

There are a lot of great Pelicans fan-led podcasts out there. Podcasts are at their best when they are conversational. Podcasts are another area where it’s up to the producers to clearly define whether they are giving reports or opinions based on sources or research.

Whoever you consume contest from doesn’t have to be an insider with the team. If they are, great! Just make sure whoever you’re reading or listening to is honest about who they are, what they do, and what their objective is.

Outside of Zion

It’s important for fans, the Pelicans, and Zion himself to remember that there is an entire organization trying to become something legitimate beyond whether or not Zion ever steps on the court.

Throughout this ordeal, it has become entirely lost that the narrative in focus should likely be on how a promising young head coach in Willie Green has had to manage a complete nightmare of a season. His progress should be noted. The progress of other players should be noted.

It seems clear the current team was built in mind with Zion doing the heavy lifting. Maybe it’s now time to build a team away from Zion and leave it up to him whether he joins or not.

What I know most of all, small market or not, the fans deserve better than what they are receiving.

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