The first 7,500 fans into the Spectrum Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina on December 23rd were treated to an early
Christmas Non-Denominational-Holiday-Occurrence-Of-Their-Choosing Present in the form of a brand new, hermetically sealed Nicolas Batum Starting Lineup Figure.
Historically, NBA team “giveaway” nights have consisted of the type of uninspired flotsam and jetsam that inevitably finds its way into your kitchen garbage can. This of course coming only after a night of carefully and inconveniently toting said rubbish around town believing it to be essential to your continued fandom. The usual suspects: Tiny Rally Towel (yawn), Way-Way-Way-Too-Big T-shirt (Who is this for?), Crap Team Calendar (Come on, buddy), etc.
In recent years, Bobbleheads have been a popular giveaway staple across all sports, and while certainly an improvement over those stale ideas, they are an example of how one good promotion can only stretch so far. Teams have seemed content to fall back on this old standby far too often. To be fair, a Hornets Bobblehead giveaway night did provide us with perhaps the single greatest moment of the short-lived yet highly-disappointing Lance Stephenson era in Charlotte, in what shall forevermore be known as “BubbleGate” :
If you’re not familiar with Starting Lineup Figures, the general idea is they are “action figures” of professional athletes. Seems like a Home Run, right? Well, it's not. The problem with making sports “action” figures is that sports themselves are already made up almost entirely of… well, action. Superhero and movie character action figures have always been essential toys, because kids can't really recreate the feats that these characters perform. The action figure becomes the outlet for that. But if a kid wants to say, recreate Kemba Walker’s step-back jumper, he or she can just lace up a pair of J’s and head to the playground.
The people behind Starting Lineup must have foreseen this little snafu in the product design, and made a bold decision to pivot away from the “action” figure model entirely. Instead of making a toy that roughly resembles the experience of playing professional sports, they decided to make one that does… nothing.
What do I mean? Well, Starting Lineup Figures literally don't do anything. They are stiff, generally immovable mini statues of athletes fixed into a predetermined position that, at best, creates a reasonable approximation of something that player would naturally do in the field of competition. This is particularly ironic with a Nicolas Batum figure: the Human Swiss Army Knife, Do-Everything Swingman has been distilled down into a plastic toy that does absolutely nothing.
Kenner stopped manufacturing Starting Lineups in 2001, presumably due to the fact that their target demographic had begun to discover actual fun things to play with. But now, thanks to the gods of nostalgia, they’re back. The only question is, who are these for?
I imagine kids in 2017 reacting to this particular “toy” with one of two responses:
- What is this?
- Why does it suck?
That’s because those kids are dumb and have no idea how good they have it. These are definitely not for today’s children. As far as I can tell, the target demographic for these are 30-year old dudes who write for Charlotte Hornets blogs. More specifically: me, baby. And you better believe that when I saw the news that these bad boys were up for grabs I had only one response-
Without further ado, here’s my review of the first of three Charlotte Hornets promotional giveaway Starting Lineup Figures; Nicolas Batum.
FACIAL RESEMBLENCE: From most distances, the figure looks like Nic Batum. This is true of most starting lineup figures, and one area where they have a distinct advantage over BobbleHeads. Bobbles rely on the tried and true comedy trope of giant head-to-tiny-body-ratio. You’ve seen it manifested in NBA Jam’s classic Big Head Mode amongst other things. But the Big Head makes the figure more susceptible to critique. You really need to nail the subject’s face on a big head, because after all, it's like 90% of the product. If you’re even a little bit off, you could end up with a figure that, as Lance put it, “Do not look like me.”
Starting Lineups have an advantage here as they feature a tiny head that is proportionally to scale of the action figure. As long as you have the jersey/number, haircut, sport, and Race of the person right, the figure will probably pass for the player.
Once you get up close though, the craftsmanship falls apart. This is the face of the Nic Batum figure:
This is not an expression that I would immediately associate with Nic Batum. Furthermore, its not really an expression I would categorize as generally “human.” Despite this, it doesn’t NOT look like Nic Batum, and for that reason I cant in good faith completely trash this aspect of the figure. This expression did strike me as oddly familiar, and after a few moments I realized that its the same face as popular internet meme “Dog Staring at Cupcakes in a Fugue State .gif”.
This is certainly a weird choice for the basis of Nic Batum’s likeness, but it is nonetheless hilarious. Purely for comedic purposes, I cannot rank this lower than a seven.
JERSEY/GEAR: Man, the NBA simply will not stop trying to make T-shirt jerseys happen. That said, Nic Batum is one of the few players that actually manages to pull off this absurd, Joe Lunchpail-targeted fashion option with reasonable dignity. Nevertheless, in this miniaturized version of the Hornets star, it looks pretty terrible.
On the bright side, we finally have an answer to the question, “What would Nic Batum look like in a swimsuit from the 1920’s?”
DEMAND: This one is hard to gauge. Again Starting Lineup Figures, as a business, went away in 2001 and spent years with presumably little to no demand and no notable market replacement. After 15 years off to think about how they could improve the product, what did they come up with?
“Lets run it back!”
There is no discernible difference in this new model. If anything, it might somehow be an even worse figure. And I want it. I’m fully aware that this product may appeal solely to me and the seven people who saw this headline and thought “sure, I’ll read this.”
SUPPLY: Unless there's a rogue Starting Lineup employee who clandestinely manufactured a second run of these in order to flood the French basketball star collectibles market (and we can't rule this out), then only 7,500 of the suckers exist in the world today. There's decent chance that a quite a few of these ended up in the trash cans of various non-plussed adolescents around the greater Charlotte-Metro area, so the exact number is impossible to discern. Still, you have to imagine that 7,500 of these is more than enough to sate the small but fervent horde of Nicolas Batum Starting Lineup Figure enthusiasts out there. I mean, right?
Maybe not. Over the weekend I monitored eBay, and saw four or five of these pop up at different times. The auction prices ranged anywhere from fifteen dollars to high twenties, and ALL of them fetched multiple bids. Apparently there's more basketball nerds with undisciplined financial practices out here than I previously thought.
One was listed with a “buy it now” price of $40! FORTY. DOLLARS. I feel confident in saying that If you were one of the people who (incorrectly) thought that Nic Batum did not do enough on a basketball court to justify a 5 year/$120 million contract over the summer, then you are NOT the same guy who thinks a tiny, plastic version of him that does literally nothing is worth forty U.S. dollars.
That is an insane amount of money for a Nicolas Batum Starting Lineup Figure. Obviously, I will not be paying $40 for that.
Okay, I probably won't pay $40 for that.
EFFECT OF PROMOTION: You’ve probably heard of the “contract year” effect. Its when a player performs above their normal level of play due to the fact that they will be a free agent following that season. Its sort of like how people tend to hit the gym, buy a new wardrobe and generally put in a great deal of effort to look more appealing to new potential mates following a breakup. Recently, Jason Concepcion wrote a piece about contract year players for The Ringer that he gave the not-so-awesome-for-Hornet’s-fans name of, “The Marvin Williams All Stars.” Ugh.
We could be seeing the beginning of a similar new trend emerging with the “Starting Lineup Giveaway Effect,” because Batum had himself a holiday week. In the game before the promotion, Batum calmly and confidently hit the game winning shot in the closing seconds of a thriller against the Los Angeles Lakers, and followed it up by notching his seventh career triple double in a big win against the conference rival Chicago Bulls on giveaway night. Analysts would likely point to Batum’s play trending in a favorable upswing in general as of late rather than attributing the success to something as arbitrary as a plastic toy giveaway. But I would IN TURN argue that you can't, like... not prove it, man.
OVERALL: I read somewhere that a Hornet’s spokesperson said the giveaway was intended to “bring in new fans.” This may sound a little weird, if not necessarily a entirely bad plan. It would be like trying to get a child who knows nothing about Star Wars interested in the movies by handing him and R2-D2 doll. He wouldn't know what it was, but could think it's cool and interesting enough to want to find out more. Similarly, if you were a person who received an immovable plastic statue of French basketball star Nicolas Batum on December 23rd and thought “Hmm, maybe I’ll give this ‘basketball’ thing a look,” then I can only assume that your head had exploded into a million tiny pieces by the end of your first NBA game viewing.
Based on the attendance numbers, the eBay resale value, and Batum’s personal performances I’d say overall this promotion was a resounding success.
Hornet’s fans can look forward to two more Starting Lineup Figure giveaways this season On February 11th (Kemba Walker) and March 11th (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist).
If you’d like to donate a Nic Batum Starting Lineup Figure to the “Steve Bob Needs More Useless Crap in his Tiny Apartment Fund” please reach out to me.