Discover more from POCHO BOY MEETS WORLD
NBA Top Shot, LaMelo Ball, and the Bizarre World of Cryptocurrency
A look into the market of the NBA’s digital currency, and the ways we profit from today’s basketball stars
On a random weekday, at a random hour, I received a random text from my best friend:
“Thank you, LaMelo Ball!”
A self-proclaimed non-basketball fan, my homie doesn’t know anything about the current NBA. So I was surprised by his sudden interest in one player.
But, at that particular moment, he had become hyper interested with the League, almost overnight, just like so many others online who have helped to make the Association the fastest growing sports league — increasing at a rate three times greater than their biggest competitor, the NFL.
I immediately opened a screenshot he’d sent, curious about whatever he was referencing:
“NBA Top Shot. Nice work! Your moment was sold! LaMelo Ball Layup — Jan 9 2021. Rare #1765. USD $3,800.00.”
Translation for those who aren’t versed in NBA Top Shot: he’d sold a digital highlight of an NBA player for nearly $4,000.
“Wtf!? Is that legit?” I replied, half-stunned and very skeptical that the money might never actually reach his account.
“Yeah lol. Crazy.”
Crazy, indeed. Knowing that my homie had recently invested in the NBA Top Shot hype — which is a form of basketball’s NFT cryptocurrency in which fans can purchase “Moments” of players to collect and resell on their accounts— I was and wasn’t completely baffled by the news.
Of course, I was happy for my dude, since I knew he’d dropped a couple hundred just to acquire the “pack” that eventually yielded the LaMelo “moment” that he could flip for more capital — like any investment, it could’ve been a bust, and his money could’ve dissipated into the digital ether. Instead, he — along with thousands of others who have discovered the NBA’s rising value— tapped into some athletic gold with one of the game’s most exciting young talents in Top Shot form: LaMelo “Make Us All Some Money” Ball.
Start with the fact that LaMelo’s wild lifestyle has been documented since he was a literal child, featured in internet clips and reality TV shows about his famous family — led by the ever-provocateur LaVar Ball, and sidekicked by older brothers and fellow NBA-experienced hoopers, Lonzo and LiAngelo.
I’ve gone back and watched some of those videos on LaMelo’s life— out of the thousands. There’s the one of LaMelo dropping 92 points in a high school game (41 coming in the 4th quarter). There’s another one of him claiming to know the Earth’s seven continents, then naming “Nigeria” as one. You can watch the kid casually riding in the backseat of his family’s car while fearlessly trash talking his oldest hermano, who played for the Los Angeles Lakers as the starting point guard at the time. My favorite is the one of him visiting Japan for the first time, looking like an awkward 9th grade teenager who is clearly too tall for his own body while hugging a Japanese stranger and pretending like they’re best friends (the stranger, unsure how to respond, just goes along with it while LaMelo giggles with his basketball team watching). The videos are endless and the kid is actually hilarious.
Unlike previous generations — who could live in relative obscurity if they wanted to by simply avoiding sports media — the NBA’s youngest stars today have only known a world with Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tik Tok and other forms of internet celebrity-dom. Melo is the perfect example of how a young person’s stock can rise (or fall, in some cases) simply from being recognizable by millions of viewers, followers, and eventually, fans who are willing to pay money to have an otherwise meaningless item.
That’s where Top Shot comes in. Launched in late 2020 as a form of digital collectibles, the platform allows users to “own” a “moment” — a 5 to 7 second highlight clip like you might see on ESPN, but for specific players in specific games. Think of trading cards, but online — and with moving images.
The possibilities go on for as many players and moments that can occur in a year’s worth of basketball. But here’s the kick: it’s a highly limited, increasingly popular, and completely digital domain in which you have to pay-to-play. After you register an account with your payment information, you have to enter into a raffle-like system to get an opportunity to even buy a pack, and if you’re lucky enough to be selected, you can then actually pay for 3 or 5 “moments.” Each pack is designed to exclusively curate which players are being released, and the more you are willing to pay, the more — in theory — you might receive in return. And this is where the investments happen.
If you buy a pack for $12, for example — the entry price — you’ll most likely get a generic NBA Joe (say, Isaiah Joe of the Philadelphia 76ers) as he makes a lay up in a meaningless situation, and that might be worth $5–15 depending on who’s in the market for Joe. But, if you buy a $200 pack, well, then you might get Rookie of the Year candidate LaMelo Ball making a sick behind the back dribble before kicking it out to his teammate for a game-winning three — which, in some cases, can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars since he is a popular player.
Last time I checked (which, admittedly, was months ago), there was a Zion Williamson “moment” worth $200,000 USD. The wildest part? Collectors are actually paying real cash to buy and trade these seemingly empty things. So, the question then becomes, are these NBA Top Shots for real, or are they — as the name suggests — a moment in time?
That’s where consumer demand, cryptocurrency, and the insatiable appetite of FOMO in an era of viral addiction can literally generate value out of something that is otherwise valueless. If you can watch free NBA highlights on YouTube in a limitless supply, why would anyone pay thousands of dollars to watch a Kyrie Irving jump shot? Why not just Google search your favorite players? That’s where becoming the “owner” of that “moment” builds desire and demand.
It’s inexplicable, really. But it’s happening. And it’s just another sign that our world is spinning faster than ever — in angles that can’t always be rationalized. The days of spending a few bucks to buy some collectible cards at the local shop are from the days of dinosaurs. Nowadays, kids are dropping hundreds just to show their homies a video that is part of a collection on an app.
Truthfully, I find it a little worrisome that people are paying thousands of bucks to have highlight clips of 19-year-olds like LaMelo shooting a round piece of leather. I’m not necessarily knocking it, but isn’t it kind of upside down? I just watch that stuff on TV and YouTube, but I’m not hedging my financial gain on it.
Maybe I’m just too warped from my days at UC Berkeley of analyzing social theories and reading revolutionary literature (yes, it’s true, that’s what many of us do at Cal), but there’s just something that strikes me as odd about the fact that we can just pimp out basketball moments by pressing a button and potentially make $147,000 just because some kid wants to “own” a Julius Randle “moment”? American capitalism, folks.
Just imagine. If fans are making $4,000 off a sale, how much do you think the app-makers are cashing in on? And who exactly are the people getting the real profits from this hustle?
In a quick search, I learned that “Dapper Labs, [the] company behind NBA Top Shot, raises $305 million while being valued at $2.6 billion. The company behind NBA Top Shot has announced a $305 million funding round that features several high-profile investors led by Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant.” If NBA players are getting in on this, I’m not against that, but it does feel conspiratorial somehow — just like every form of cryptocurrency and NFTs do to me.
I’m not trying to argue for or against Top Shot here. I’m just wondering out loud about how this is all something that points to the fact that we, as U.S. consumers, dictate every market, and whatever we choose to deem as valuable and worthy — even hyper-short NBA videos — in fact becomes valuable and worthy.
The fanfare for Top Shot was so epic at one point that there were even moms, full-time immigrant restaurant workers, young middle schoolers, and housewives getting in on the action — I don’t mean to suggest that these groups of people can’t be sports fans, but I’m actually referring anonymously to real people in my life who fit into these labels and literally have never cared about basketball but were suddenly buying “moments” as legitimate investments. That’s cool if you think about it, but we should also step back to reconsider how we are defining sports entertainment as a source of income and constantly making bets now.
Unfortunately, LaMelo Ball has been injured for a large portion of his career. And strangely, that increased the value of his “moments,” since it lowers the supply of his highlights, therefore giving more demand to whatever scant clips of him might exist, pre-wrist fracture. So, what has been actually bad for the player and team on the court has become good and profitable for the player’s Top Shot value off the court. Another head-scratcher.
Whenever a hooper makes a play on the court these days, some people aren’t even thinking about how much excitement it brings them as fans of the sport — they’ll be thinking about how much that player is worth to them.
Thanks for reading POCHO BOY MEETS WORLD! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.