Drake is a symbol of Toronto.
The 27-year-old's music is a staple on the radio, at clubs and in arenas. He's created award-winning music and sold millions of albums, becoming one of the world's most iconic entertainment figures.
He's now so popular that his celeb status moved him outside the music scene. In September 2013, Drake was named "team ambassador" for his hometown Toronto Raptors. This move was the topic of a piece this week over at Raptors HQ. The column builds on the argument that the NBA system is inherently rigged to favor large-market teams.
Add in a high-profile face, though, and a team instantly becomes more valuable in the eyes of the NBA.
Drake's role is designed to be completely separate from the X's and O's. Instead, he's there as a figurehead for basketball's continuing importance in global pop culture. In other words, he gets meetings, puts eyes on the organization, lures free agents and puts butts in seats. He might even attract an All-Star Game one day.
Drake is hardly the first entertainer to get involved in sports. Jay-Z is probably the most visible artist to get into the game, launching the Roc Nation Sports agency (notably representing Kevin Durant). He also owned part of the Nets for a spell, generating interest in the team during their move to Brooklyn from New Jersey. Other entertainers like Will Smith owning part of the Philadelphia 76ers or Jack Nicholson and Spike Lee being celebrity superfans also bridge the pop culture gap.
Let's face it: that glitz and glam matters to potential free agents and national television audiences. It's an unofficial requirement to be in the best graces of the league office.
Portland, like Toronto, wants in on the national pie. After bidding to host the 2018 All-Star Game, the Trail Blazers organization is making it known to the league they have a desire to be on a national stage.
With the success of Drake and others, would finding a "team ambassador" potentially be a way to go about it?
That type of branding could prove critical when thinking about whether the city could host larger events. Portland's All-Star bid was their first foray into uncharted waters. Up until recently, Portland couldn't have even handled the mass of people that come for the game. However, with the approval of a Convention Center Hotel set to be built by 2018, Portland may have the infrastructure to actually host the game.
The last hurdle would be wowing those that make the final selection of its location, whether it's for an All-Star Game or another large scale event like the Final Four.
This is where Portland is at a disadvantage. Cities like Los Angeles or New York boast obvious benefits. There's even a strong pull to a Canadian city like Toronto: though not necessarily the largest city in the world, it's still known for being metropolitan in nature.
So what gets the lights to shine brighter in Portland? Why not the celebrity element? Putting a face or brand on the team that isn't a player turns basketball into a marriage of pop culture and sport.
Portland isn't inherently flashy. While LA Live or the lights of Madison Square Garden are a draw for many, Oregonians relish local food and beer options being added to the Moda Center. The city's identity is "Weird", not glamorous. Not to mention the lack of a pop culture icon who could come close to the Drake or Jay-Z effect.
Maybe there are other ways to get to eyeballs on the team. Maybe a heavy push to spin Seattle's "12th Man" into a "6th Man" campaign would work, or changing the layout of the Moda Center to fit a 21st-Century blueprint of what a sports arena looks like, or something that hasn't yet come up in a brainstorm session yet.
What we can't expect, though, is that the pop culture path is a likely scenario.
Ed. Sounds like Sam's thrown down the gauntlet. If the Blazers did go for some kind of celebrity association, which native celebrities would fit the bill? Can you think of any?