Why the NBA Wants Us to Talk About Racism – Liberal Article

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Why the NBA wants us to talk about racism – Liberal Article

On the 30 July, the National Basketball Association (NBA) restarted their league. The season was cancelled in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. 22 teams were housed at Walt Disney World in Florida, as the league (commonly referred to as “The Bubble”) sought to restart in the safest possible conditions, despite being in one of the worst-affected countries in the world.

With many new changes, such as virtual fans and ballroom courts, one theme stuck out the most. Besides the NBA branding itself as ever-present, three words – plastered in the middle of the court and on screens circling it – dominated the arena: Black. Lives. Matter.

Uniforms usually displaying names like “James”, “Harden” and “Antetokounmpo” instead displayed phrases like “Equality”, “Justice Now” and “How Many More”. Despite the empty stands, one thing is for certain: the NBA wants to talk about racism.

Racism is not isolated to the NBA. It has occurred and been protested against in other sports before. The 1968 Olympics saw Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists in salute to black power whilst the American national anthem was being sung. More recently, former American football quarterback Colin Kaepernick sparked huge political debate in America over his decision to kneel, instead of stand, during the singing of the national anthem opening every game. 

But among all American sports, basketball is perhaps the most appropriate for a raw conversation.

Primarily played by black athletes, and with two-thirds of its US fanbase being non-white, the issue of race has definitely featured prominently in the sport. Just like any other US institution, basketball has had its share of racist history. 1920s black athletes were forced to stay in segregated hotels while travelling through the American South. Even as late as the 80s – where stars of the league included all-time greats like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan – white players were still paid $26,000 more on average, despite producing poorer performances.

The recent murders that sparked the BLM protests have, once again, highlighted the disadvantage of being black in America. NBA commissioner Adam Silver says he wants to bring this into focus.

According to the league’s handbook for this lockdown tournament, a “central goal” will be to use the NBA’s platform “to bring attention and sustained action to issues of social injustice, including combating systemic racism, expanding educational and economic opportunities across the black community, enacting meaningful police and criminal justice reform and promoting greeted civic engagement”.

Despite these goals, I remain sceptical over the effectiveness of Silver’s plans. Although black players make up three-quarters of the league, only one of the 30 teams has black majority ownership; Michael Jordan of the Charlotte Hornets. As recently as 2017, there were only three black general managers. Now there are only six. If the NBA really wants to push for greater racial justice, it has to lead by example. Especially as media attention on it is sky-high during the play-offs. 

On the bright side, the latest push, following the events in Wisconsin, is promising; with all NBA arenas being converted into polling stations for the November elections, and the implementation of the NBA Foundation to promote economic empowerment in black communities.

Everyone knows that in America, corporations have a far greater influence than groups of individuals. Ultimately, the NBA needs to use its influence as one of America’s biggest brands to push for greater social justice.

Hopefully, this foundation will help fund more opportunities for black people outside of sports, and help bridge America’s racial divide. It is only then that the country can show that black lives do truly matter. 

Written by Senior Liberal Writer, Imran Mydin

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Point of Information

Racial prejudice in the NBA must be held to an equal standard – A Conservative Response

Imran highlights the ever-present topic of racism amongst the NBA. It is clear that the NBA has been the catalyst for many wider discussions of race. The Black Lives Matter movement has certainly featured heavily throughout the recent season, which is an absolute necessity. 

However, I would like to address Montrezel Harrell’s recent outburst of racial prejudice against NBA player Luka Doncic. Harrell openly called Doncic a “b**** a** white boy” during a game, an array of responses to the slur have followed. Charles Barkley, former NBA player and Analyst on ‘Inside the NBA’, expressed his outrage at the comment. He stated that ‘If he (white guy) would have said that to a black guy, you don’t get to have a double standard, Montrezel Harrell was wrong. He shouldn’t have said it.’

Barkley brings an important argument to the table here. Whether racism towards white people can exist is definitely another discussion which I am not so sure about. However, there is a clear double standard here. If the NBA is to progress in its discussion on racial prejudice, then instances like this must be held to an equal standard.

I would also like to discuss Imran’s exploration into the limited number of black majority owners in the NBA. This is definitely an area lacking in black representation. But the idea of racial privilege needs to be looked at a bit more widely when discussing the NBA. 

To shine a different light on this case, there has recently been controversy surrounding Steve Nash’s job with the Brooklyn Nets; claims that Nash only got the job due to his white privilege. Marcellus Wiley, a former NFL player, strongly disagreed with this claim. He openly discussed Nash’s status as a “two time MVP” and “his amazing humility and… amazing ability to communicate”.

It is also worth noting that in the last 20 years the NBA has had 16 head coaches with no previous experience, of which nine have been black. This is absolutely not to say that they are not deserving of their roles, it just shows that the topic of white privilege may not be so clear cut when it comes to the NBA. When African American sports stars and analysts are providing this perspective on racial prejudice, it is equally important that we listen to them too. 

Written by Guest Conservative Writer, Rebecca Selt

Praise the players – A Labour Response

Imran has provided an excellent overview of the problems that have historically plagued American sports. In this instance, the NBA appears to have taken a stand in solidarity with America’s black communities. Rightly so, Imran points to the use of jerseys to deliver political messages; a break from the tradition of the league. Yet, it is important to acknowledge that the NBA simply gave players the agency to deliver a political message.

The NBA is not the driving force; the driving force is the multitude of high profile black athletes who have decided to take up the fight for racial equality. 

After the police in Kenosha, Wisconsin killed Jacob Blake, players went on strike, obtaining a series of negotiations and talks. With the league and owners facing the financial losses of cancelled games, and the players as a unit resolute in their stance on increasing the social justice profile of the NBA, collective action was inevitable. The period of negotiations lasted 48 hours and has tied the NBA into making more official commitments with regards to fighting racial inequality.

A social justice coalition of players, coaches and owners were one of the significant developments the players were able to achieve. Of course, we will have to see the results this yields and whether it was a meaningful commitment by the NBA. Nevertheless, it was the players’ personal drive, based on their own relationship with racism, that sparked the NBA’s anti-racism campaign. 

Whether sporting professionals should be placed on pedestals as role models or not, is a different discussion. But it seems players as a collective deserve huge praise. The climax of the NBA season is in full swing; yet day after day players are making an emotionally draining stand against police brutality. All credit to them!

Written by Senior Labour Writer, Henry Mckeever

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Imran Mydin
Co-head social media marketing at | Website

I am in my third year of studying Economics and Finance at Heriot-Watt University. I have had an avid interest in politics since I was child, and this was partly due to my father’s interest in it.

Rebecca Selt
Conservative Writer | Website
Henry Mckeever
Senior Labour writer | Website

I am entering the third year of a BA in History and Ancient History at the University of Exeter.  I have a fascination with the past otherwise and you would hope so, otherwise I may have chosen the wrong degree. But, writing for POI gives me the opportunity to talk politics which is something I simply can’t avoid.

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