By Barry Janoff
March 7, 2013: Tyson Chandler of the New York Knicks is best known for standing tall on defense.
Now he is on the offense, starring in a PSA for NBA Cares and WildAid to help bring focus on an international crisis: The illegal killing of elephants for their ivory and rhinos for their horns.
WildAid, an international group with U.S. headquarters in San Francisco, and NBA Cares, the league's global social responsibility program, said this campaign is directly "aimed at reducing the illegal trade of wildlife products in China." WildAid said its goal is to reduce the demand for endangered species products by specifically targeting consumers with the message, "When the buying stops, the killing can too."
The effort comes even as the NBA, companies with close ties to the NBA such as Nike and adidas and several NBA players are working to build their brand and presence in China.
Prior to the current season, the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers played two pre-season games in China. This week, the NBA said that the Los Angels Lakers and Golden State Warriors would play a pair of 2013-14 pre-season games in Beijing and Shanghai, Oct. 15 at the MasterCard Center and Oct. 18 at the Mercedes-Benz Arena, respectively.
Among other initiatives, the NBA recently unveiled plans to build a $1.5 billion, 2,300-acre sports and entertainment complex just outside Beijing. The league also is involved with the Chinese Basketball Assn. to build arenas and help develop players.
"China is our number one market outside of the United States," Heidi Ueberroth, president of NBA International, recently told Reuters. "The growth has been very significant and very much on track, and we are very much still just scratching the surface. [International growth is] a big priority in our business. It's very profitable, particularly in a place like China. We've got over 20 marketing partners there."
Among other NBA players who have already done PSAs for WildAid are Pau Gasol of the Lakers, whose focus, like Chander's, is on bringing to light the plight of African elephants and China's significant role in the problem.
Regarding the two upcoming pre-season games in China, Tim Harris. the Lakers' svp-business operations and CMO, said in a statement, "Over the last two decades, the Lakers brand has grown tremendously in the international market, especially in China. The support we receive from the fans in China has been essential to that growth and we look forward to the opportunity to play in front our Chinese fans while also taking part in various NBA community initiatives during our stay."
As part of eight games that will be played in six countries during the next pre-season, the NBA said they would feature a "variety of events off the court, including NBA Cares community outreach activities and interactive fan events in each city." In addition, they will be supported by a "variety of marketing and promotional partners."
In addition to Gasol, Chandler's Knicks teammate Carmelo Anthony has done a PSA for WildAid addressing the plight of all endangered species. And Yao Ming, the retired NBA star who is arguably the most renowned athlete in China's sports history has done several WildAid PSAs that target the killing of sharks, whose fins are used for soup, mainly in Asia.
Chandler's PSA breaks this week during NBA programming on TNT and NBA TV. It will air during the remainder of the 2012-13 NBA season and playoffs.
The campaign comes on the heels of an in-depth study of Central African forest elephants, conducted under the auspices of the Wildlife Conservation Society, which shows that the elephant population dropped by 62% between 2002-11 and that about 25,000 African elephants are being killed each year.
There has been a ban on ivory poaching since 1989, but that has not prevented the crisis from intensifying.
According to the WCS study, although other nations also are to blame, the "biggest contributor" to the problem is China, where there has been over the past ten years an increase in the demand for ivory for figurines, jewelry and other items. Of the ivory taken from elephants, China consumes half.
According to studies, the elephant population in Africa is about 500,000, one-tenth the population from about 75 years ago.
A 2011 report from the International Fund For Animal Welfare cited by WildAid claims that two rhinos are killed each day in South Africa, and rhino populations have declined 95% worldwide over the past 40 years.
In Chandler's 30-second PSA, shots of NBA players in action are played out to scenes of elephants in the wild and the result of the attacks on them.
In one scene, NBA players are seen battling in the paint, followed by a scene in which two elephants are shown battling for territory. An elephant kicking up a cloud of dust is juxtaposed with Kevin Garnett during his pre-game chalk dust-up. And an elephant roaring is followed by Chandler roaring after blocking a shot.
The PSA concludes with an image of a pile of elephant tusks and a shot taken via a hidden camera in a store laden with polished tusks and other ivory products for sale.
"Bigger. Stronger. More domineering than any other.," Chander, who has been in the NBA since 2001, won a title with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 and was named to the All-Star team this season, says in the PSA. "Elephants are the centers of the animal kingdom. But unfortunately today, they are under attack. Tens of thousands are being killed each year just for their ivory. So, please, support conservation. Never buy products made from ivory. Because when the buying stops, the killing can too." (See the full spot here.)
According to Peter Knights, executive director for WildAid, "Increased affluence has led to rising demand for ivory in China and rhino horn in Vietnam, while the Chinese and Vietnamese publics are largely unaware of the crises. Given the NBA's popularity around the world, we hope our partnership with NBA Cares can help reduce demand."
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