Ads dominate LeBron James’ latest career milestone.

It was a moment to remember on Saturday night as LeBron James got into the paint, spun past Michael Porter Jr., and laid it in with his off hand to become the first player in NBA history to amass 40,000 career points. It was an historic moment, a feat that will either never be broken or at the very least won’t be surpassed for an extremely long time. And it was a moment that, if you were watching it live on ABC, looked lame beyond words because there was a gargantuan digital ad for Kung Fu Panda 4 projected onto the floor throughout the play. Yes, Kung Fu Panda 4.

I mean, let’s talk about how embarrassing this is. First, the ad itself is hideous. Ostensibly, these ads are so supposed to blend in with the hardwood so well that we, the inattentive viewer, forget that they’re even there, but that’s impossible not only because of the obnoxious size of them but the fact that the technology for them isn’t good at all. This ad, for example, is fuzzy and jittery; despite its size, you actually have to concentrate to make out what the text actually says, which is pretty ridiculous. If you were watching the game, you could see it flicker every now and then too, and when players like Jamal Murray or Aaron Gordon would walk over it, the ads would briefly pass through part of their skin.

Then there’s the fact that this is an ad for the third sequel of the Kung Fu Panda series. Now those movies themselves are fine, but this wasn’t exactly a noble or venerable product that was buying real estate for this momentous occasion. This wasn’t a venerable institution like Nike or Cadillac or Coca-Cola. No, it’s a movie that isn’t even the biggest movie that will come out during the first 10 days of March 2024, a movie that most people look at and think “What, they made another one?” It’s a product that most people will never think about again for the rest of their lives after it’s released, and yet this product – this disposable Jack Black movie – is now forever married to the clip of one of the greatest landmark moments in NBA history. At least the NBA had the decency to take the ad out of the YouTube upload of the historic moment.

But the worst part about this ad and all ads like this is the palpable sense you get from them that the NBA doesn’t remotely respect its audience. Yes, these ads are distracting and yes they cheapen the product, but the most damning thing about them is that they’re unnecessary. The NBA is swimming in cash. It’s doing so incredibly well that it’s on the verge of signing a new media rights deal that will likely increase the value of every franchise by hundreds of millions if not billions; it’s doing so well that they’re about to expand to two more cities and raise everyone’s salaries even higher. In other words, this league could get by just fine without clunky, bulbous ads for Kung Fu Panda 4 and Emirates and Clorox being launched onto the floor for every second of every game, just as it managed to survive for 70+ years without these ads – before deciding only in the last few years to go nuts with them.

So why are these ads suddenly inescapable? Why are they so embedded in this sport that you can’t even enjoy LeBron eclipsing an historic milestone like this without being inundated with logos for Kung Fu Panda 4?

Because the league and its broadcast partners don’t care about its viewers.

It doesn’t matter that being an NBA fan requires you to make concession after concession, tolerating that star players sit out more games than they do in any other sport, tolerating that NBA League Pass has been glitchy and laggy and too expensive for almost its entire existence, tolerating that the league’s primary broadcaster has a studio show most people find unwatchable, tolerating that teams now wear lame uniforms because of a licensing deal with Nike, tolerating that those uniforms now have ads on them, and that there are now painted-on ads on the baselines of the courts, and that every broadcast now comes with so many ads for DraftKings and FanDuel and PointsBet and BetMGM and so on that it’d be fatal to play a drinking game in which you count how many times they appear.

It doesn’t matter that if you’re an NBA fan, you’ve had to stomach a thousand different cuts in which the league has made this game appreciably harder to watch and less aesthetically pleasing for the sake of extracting as much money from its customers as possible. No, that’s still not enough. Now you have to absorb gargantuan, ugly-ass ads the size of two NBA players on both halves of the floor for every second of every game too. This league doesn’t reward its fans, it punishes them. NBA fans have carried this league to its next mega rights deal, and the league’s response has been to look at its audience and go “You suckers have had it too good for too long. Well, not anymore…”

And so, the saddest takeaway from LeBron’s historic layup is the realization that every major NBA moment from will look just like this from now on. The next time there’s a great game, the next time someone has an incredible scoring performance, the next time something happens that fans will remember for the rest of their lives, part of that memory will have to be allocated to the logo of a product that had probably already been advertised five different ways during that broadcast already. Classic NBA moments will never be able to stand on their own again. But hey, at least life will be a little easier now for Kung Fu Panda’s 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 whenever they come out.

[Devin Raab is on Twitter and Bluesky @velodus]